cover image The Distant Sound

The Distant Sound

Gert Jonke, trans. from the German by Jean M. Snook, Dalkey Archive, $14.95 paper (312p) ISBN 978-1-56478-526-8

In a dense existential journey that challenged the patience of his translator, late Austrian novelist Jonke (1946–2009) explores the disintegration of self. The unnamed narrator, a composer, wakes up one day in a psychiatric hospital room shared by a loudly wheezing patient and invaded by importunate staff. Mystified, our protagonist enlists the help of a hospital assistant he refers to as "SHE" or "HER" to seek out the doctor, who curtly reminds the patient (who has no memory) that he has attempted suicide and is being held until stabilized. Unfortunately, the patient's file has been lost or stolen (possibly by HER), and his investigation yields few clues. Determined to find the woman, the patient escapes from the hospital and embarks on ambling adventures with a group of traveling performers, only to return where he started. Perhaps too much was lost in translation, but given the solipsistic narrative's lack of cohesion and too willful strangeness, it doesn't seem like there was much there to begin with. (Aug.)