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Der Untergeher

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Way back in November, I wrote about the series of affordable hardcovers of classics published by Sueddeutsche Zeitung, ending my writing in

The next volume in the series, number 4, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which I didn’t buy because I already had the English version. And the following volume is Thomas Bernhard’s Der Untergeher which I shall write about shortly.

With more than four months having passed since, I didn’t mange to live up to the ‘shortly’ promise. Book cover for Der Untergeher That’s particularly embarrassing as the book in question, Thomas Bernhard’s Der Untergeher (The Loser in English), is just 150 pages long and focuses on one of my favourite topics ever, the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. So this should have been an enjoyable and light read for an evening or two. But it wasn’t.

While Thomas Bernhard may be labelled as modern or ‘avant garde’ in places, I found the book a horrible read. While 150 pages may not be long, they are eternal if they only contain a single paragraph. That’s not a joke, the whole frigging book only contains a single paragraph. No good places to stop when you want to go to sleep or think about what was going on. As the whole book is quite repetitive, this made it even hard to stop reading in between as all the different places were quite similar. I couldn’t manage to read it in one go either, as I found it immensely tiring to read statements about what was going on over and over again.

In fact, not much is happening in the book. Not directly anyway as it is just the account of certain events given by a narrator. He is a pianist who studied at the Mozarteum in Salzburg together with a guy called Wertheimer and with Glenn Gould in the class of Horowitz (name-dropping uh-oh!). He and Wertheimer got to know Glenn Gould and his talent or genius made it clear to them that while being good at the piano, they were just bad in comparison – making them depressed enough to stop playing. In addition they were rich kids, so they could do other stuff, like move around or, in Wertheimer’s case, boss his sister around after their parents died. Eventually Wertheimer’s sister moved out and Glenn Gould died, causing Wertheimer to kill himself and the narrator to go back to a couple of places and indulge repetitively in memories.

That’s about what happens. And its essence is already present in the first 30 pages. Everything that follows is more or less repetition, adding details in long sentences and letting you follow the thoughts and spontaneous associations of the narrator. Somehow I still think this is quite a sweet idea for a book. But at the same time, I found it horribly painful and unenjoyable to read. So perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Bookmark: 12-03-2003 flight LH4512 Frankfurt to Birmingham, seat 23F.

OK, let’s see what’s next up in the series which I so rigorously read that I got all the way to volume 5 in half a year… volume 6 is Paul Auster’s City of Glass which I’ve already read and didn’t like too much. But I’ll have to skip until volume 12, Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle – the book that found some use in making the film Eyes Wide shut – anyway as that’s the next one I’ve got here…

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

April 19, 2005, 1:13

Tagged as book, glenn gould, lang:de, sz bibliothek, thomas bernhard, untergeher.

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