by Thomas Bernhard

Paperback, 1989




London : Quartet, 1989.


Instead of the book he's meant to write, Rudolph, a Viennese musicologist, produces this tale of procrastination, failure, and despair, a dark and grotesquely funny story of small woes writ large and profound horrors detailed and rehearsed to the point of distraction. "Certain books—few—assert literary importance instantly, profoundly. This new novel by the internationally praised but not widely known Austrian writer is one of those—a book of mysterious dark beauty . . . . [It] is overwhelming; one wants to read it again, immediately, to re-experience its intricate innovations, not to let go of this masterful work."—John Rechy, Los Angeles Times "Rudolph is not obstructed by some malfunctions in part of his being—his being itself is a knot. And as Bernhard's narrative proceeds, we begin to register the dimensions of his crisis, its self-consuming circularity . . . . Where rage of this intensity is directed outward, we often find the sociopath; where inward, the suicide. Where it breaks out laterally, onto the page, we sometimes find a most unsettling artistic vision."—Sven Birkerts, The New Republic… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Brasidas
An Austrian musicologist has for ten years been trying to begin writing a monograph on Mendelssohn Bartholdy, but he is blocked. He lives in the ancestral family house bequeathed to him after his parents' death. He is the most equivocating, self-contradictory man on earth. Some examples: he hates his sister, despises the Vienna social life and business career she has, but at the same time loves her and believes her correct in everything she says. The house he also hates and loves. He extends this vacillation to himself and his projects, the Austrian winter, his country's politicians, on and on. It all makes him want to "vomit" For the first 100 pages or so most traditional novelistic techniques--description, character and plot development, point of view, multiple voices, what have you--are avoided in favor of a single individual's solipsistic rant about how difficult and awful his life is (and how he's suffered and why he deserves better). He is oddly loquacious on the subjects of his misery, but there is nothing he can produce about his desired subject, Mendelssohn Bartholdy. So he turns the dysfunctional critical apparatus on himself and others. He is nothing if not opinionated. The only problem is that no opinion he possesses ever holds. He is always eager to almost instantaneously embrace its opposite. There are no set positions in his view of himself. Nothing is known, or perhaps can be known. The Uncertainty Principle springs to mind. There is no center, no balance, no perspective. Just a continual acceptance and subsequent rejection of self, work, society, family and so on. The critics I have read, many of them, have come to embrace positions only after years of deliberation. Our narrator possesses nothing like this. Everything is in flux. There's the sense of someone hurtling along at great speed, not knowing from one moment to next what his responses to be. Finally he is able to get himself out of Austria and to a favorite vacation haunt: Palma, Majorca. Once there the narrative undergoes a change. The velocity of the narration slows as he begins to tell us about someone he met in that city 18 months before. Her name is Anna Hardtl. Anna tells him the story of her loss in that city one year before of her 23 year old husband. Our narrator's own travails seem truly puny by comparison. Worse is the implied understanding on his part that he could have helped Anna 18 months before but chose not to do so. The opportunity for compassion was there, but he fails to follow up on it. This is the note on which the novel ends.… (more)
LibraryThing member stillatim
Three books in and it's fairly clear that Bernhard doesn't write books so much as he cuts off sausages from a long sausage tube of anger, disgust, self-disgust, irony, sincerity, satire and self-righteousness. This was more enjoyable than The Loser and Gathering Evidence, in large part because the irony/sincerity levels were a bit more in keeping with, you know, basic human intelligence. There's less of the foolishness that you get in Gathering Evidence, and more humor than The Loser. E.g.,

"People exist for the sole purpose of tracking down the intellect and annihilating it" 8.

Bernhard has a difficult trick, I think. He wants to use exaggeration to shock the reader into seeing our own complicity in injustice, and our stupidity and self-righteousness. His narrators are equally complicit, stupid and self-righteous, though they recognize all of this. And Bernhard himself, presumably, must be equally complicit, stupid and self-righteous. Except that he can't be stupid; if he were, he couldn't write such novels. And his self-righteousness is the self-righteousness of the intellect, not of the will. All of this means that his novels are more emotionally and rhetorically affecting when they're most artificial, ironic and ludicrous, as in the above quote, which is obviously not an attempt to say something truthful, but a pointing at something else in the world. Similarly, take the narrator's statement that

"Ninety percent of the time today we are up against subtle exploiters, ten percent of the time against unpardonable idiots," 40.

Again, obviously not true, obviously hyperbolic, points us to something true. But when Bernhard's narrator draw back slightly from the hyperbole, you get revolting things like:

"Poverty can't be eradicated, and anyone who thinks of eradicating it is set on nothing short of the eradication of the human race itself, and hence of nature itself," 41.

Unlike the annihilation of intellect or the fool/knave ratios, there are a great number of people who *actually, seriously* think things like this. By putting them in the mouth of his narrator, otherwise so intelligent, Bernhard allows me, his reader, to separate myself from the narrator. In other words: paradoxically, the less exaggerated the text is, the less rhetorically effective and the less true it is.


"The world spirit as it were, overestimates the human spirit. We are always bound to fail because we set our sights a few hundred percent higher than is appropriate... but on the other hand, I reflect, where should we be if we constantly set our sights too low?" 84-5.

Ridiculous, exaggerated, fundamentally true. Whereas the nihilism of 106-7 ("All I have left in the end is my present pathetic existence, which no longer has veyr much to offer. But that's how it should be. No doctrine holds water any longer... When we really know the world, we see that it is just a world full of errors"), or 110 or 117 is cringe-worthy.

None of which will stop me reading his little sausages, which show that one can be interesting, enjoyable and challenging in straightforward, beautiful prose books that are less than 800 pages long.
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LibraryThing member jonfaith
For the life of me, I can't recall the year I read this one, I suppose that the appropriately fitting gray period in my life between 1999 and 2001 allowed this one to serve as a mirror for my own confused meandering.
LibraryThing member arewenotben
Picked this up as Karl Ove Knausgaard was raving about it (either in an interview or one of his books, I forget) and can definitely see the influence Bernhard had on him. I loved parts - particularly the ranty sections - but it developed into a bit of a slog. Good approximation of the creative process in general though.
LibraryThing member lethalmauve
A staggering ode to procrastination and much of life's limiting circumstances, Thomas Bernhard's Concerete is laden with provoking musings and festering regrets. Surrounded by the walls of his room, sick Rudolf writes an account of his monotonous days and enduring thoughts: the struggle to start his work on composer Mendelssohn Bartholdy which has been pending for 10 years now, the so-called distractions his sister bring that contribute to the prevention of creative inspiration and motivation's arrival then his seemingly never ending complaints and sentiments about everything that has once been a substantial part of his life as if he won't be fooled with their tomfoolery ever again (past friends, dead parents, nights of parties and engagements, and his travels).

** "Friendship—what a leprous word! People use it every day ad nauseam, so that it's become utterly devalued, at least as much as the word Love, which has been trampled to death." (p51)

But other than these lamentations and contradictions—the imminent arrival of death yet the expectation of a hundred tomorrows; the eventual hope to do what one endeavoured to do—Concrete is an intricate and intimate observation of the human condition despite its misanthropy at face value and harsh realisations of a life yet to be lived.

** "We always demand everything, when in the nature of things we should demand little, and that depresses us." (p84)

Concrete culminates to a devastating piece of memory, that of the tragic story of Anna Härdtl and her husband; remembrance cuts as sharp as papers. Rudolf is stricken with all kinds of pain. Bernhard knew the hard life and the suffering existence brings; the utmost and futile desire, its dangers and pitfalls, for perfection.

** "Very often we write down a sentence too early, then another too late; what we have to do is to write it down at the proper time, otherwise it's lost." (p151)
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