Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Extinction by Thomas Bernard (1986, translated by David Mclintock)

I give my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this work 

Extinction is the third novel by Thomas Bernhard (1931to 1989) I have so far have had the strange experience of reading.  Prior to this I first read his Wittgenstein's Nephew then his Concrete.   Like both of these novels, Extinction is basically a long interior monologue.  The narrator is completely convinced of his own intellectual, cultural, and moral superiority to everyone else pretty much in the world.  The narratives are fascinating complex commentaries on society.  The narrator is very rich through ancient Austrian money.

Extinction is divided into two chapters.  The first chapter is our narrator having it seems an imagined conversation with his pupil, telling him of his experience growing up on the incredibly wealthy very ancient estate Austrian estate of Wolsegg.  He launches into vitriolic attacks on his parents, especially his mother,his  older brother, and his two sisters.  He hates everything about Austrian society.  His narrative is full of contradictions and self-deception.  As he was going on and on I was some how fascinated but I had to fight the urge to scream out "shut the heck up".  He is teaching his one pupil German literature.  The only author he admires without reservation is Kafka.  He comes close to saying all German literature is trash.  The narrator seems like an arrogant twenty something but he is forty eight. 

His father was involved with the Nazis during the war, not such much as a believer but just to go along.    His mother may have had a sexual affair with an archbishop.  The only person in the family he has any esteem for is his uncle Gustav, his mother's brother.   Lots of very fascinating observations are made.

In the second section he gets a telegraph saying his parents and his older brother have been killed in an auto wreck.  He had vowed never to return to the estate, he lives in Rome, but he must go to the funeral and he is now the sole owner of all the property, vast wealth.  We follow him back and listen to his thoughts as he deals with the return and the funeral preparations.  The house is a three story monstrosity.  It has five separate libraries to house bought for display never read books.  The narrator is very into the reading life, greatly admires Scopenhauer.  He prefers French literature, he adores Proust and the great Rusiians to all others.  I liked and was shocked by the ending.  

Extinction is a masterwork.  At times reading it felt like I was  being scourged with a cat of nine tails, at other times as if was an exquisite pleasure available only to the very dedicated reader.  

Bernhard wrote nine novels.  I see no legitimate way out of not putting the remaining six on my to be read list.   

Please share your experience with Bernhard with us.

Mel u

1 comment: said...

I have no experience with Thomas Bernard but you have piqued my interest. I'll see if my library has anything of his. I've decided to make this something of a library summer this year.