My Writing

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The Voice Imitator" by Thomas Bernhard

I liked this book. It made me laugh a lot. There are 104 stories in it, each no more than a page long, some as short as a sentence or two. They are anecdotes drawn from newspaper reports, stories people told Bernhard, and his own experience. Each is like a fable or a joke. I actually laughed my ass off on a regular basis while reading this book. I highly recommend it. I read the Kenneth J. Northcott translation.

Thomas Bernhard had an incurable lung disease, tuberculosis, throughout most of his life. Perhaps relatedly, this book is consistently morbid and its humor is very dark. But no matter how brutal the satire in these stories, or how misanthropic, I never felt alienated from the author. I felt like he was encouraging me to laugh at how ridiculous everything can be, from politics to academia to the idiosyncrasies of people's behavior, and above all, the randomness of life and death.

Many of the stories had titles that seemed deadpan or like sarcastic commentaries on the text of the story. For example, a story called "Inner Compulsion" is about these firemen who pull away the safety blanket and run away at the exact moment a suicidal man, who has been threatening for hours to jump to his death, actually jumps to his death; the firemen defend themselves in court by saying they acted "out of a sudden inner compulsion." This is also an example of another thing Bernhard does often in the book, which is to italicize certain phrases, presumably for sarcastic emphasis. He also uses the phrase "in the nature of things" very often, which I interpreted as being sarcastically formal as well as an implied philosophical commentary---this is how things are, horrible shit happens constantly and one's best intentions are oftentimes for naught. Also, everyone dies, sooner or later.

"In June of last year, a Tyrolean was arraigned on a charge of murdering a schoolchild from Imst and was sentenced to life imprisonment. [...] The Tyrolean had murdered the schoolchild from Imst with a so-called mason's mallet."

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