cover image Yes


Thomas Bernhard. University of Chicago Press, $14 (140pp) ISBN 978-0-226-04390-6

Bernhard's (1931-89) reputation as one of the most important voices of post-WW II Central Europe is bolstered mightily by these two short but dense novels. Yes, first published in Austria in 1978, is a monologue by an unnamed narrator, a scientist telling of an encounter with a mysterious Persian woman who rescues him from the depths of a deep depression at the cost of her own life. The book that results from this simple scenario is an astonishing technical feat, with cascading clauses that reproduce the rush of thought that borders on madness and with a looping series of repetitions and variations that is almost musical in structure, surging forward with hysterical emergy before concluding in a somber diminuendo. In Old Masters , written four years before Bernhard's death in 1989, an intellectual--this time a music scholar--has chosen to isolate himself, groping his way through a depression. This novel, however, is a series of interlocking monologues. Atzbacher tells of his friend Reger, who every other day comes to a museum to sit in front of Tintoretto's White-Bearded Man . In a series of wildly inventive but ultimately disturbing soliloquies, Reger, Atzbacher and the museum guard who has befriended them all rail against the dissolution of post-WW II Vienna and the decadence of Austrian culture. Gradually we learn of Reger's despair at the death of his wife and the book closes with a touching and funny gesture of friendship between Atzbacher and Reger. Both of these masterful novels are difficult but enthralling fugues of despair and recovery. Oser's translations brilliantly preserve the structural complexities of both works. (Nov.)