Thomas Bernhard’s disingenuity is revealed with more clarity than anywhere else, in the 2009 volume My Prizes (German: Meine Preise) which comes translated into English by Carol Brown Janeway with a preface by Frances Wilson.

At one point, incidental to his demolition of the Franz Theodor Csokor Prize Thomas Bernhard writes: ‘I was in the process of being exposed to a particularly savage wave of personal attacks in the Austrian newspapers. I do not know why.’

These two sentences may surprise the observant readers of the Thomas Bernhard oeuvre as Bernhard is usually to be found verbally assaulting Austria, attacking the press with no provocation, and for pouring scorn on any and all Austrian cultural, medical and governmental institutions.

Even one or two of Thomas Bernhard’s books — even a mere dip into Alte Mesiter or Ja — would indicate why the press attack him — but if any final or summary item of evidence were needed to answer the conundrum as to why Bernhard might be savaged in the Austrian press, My Prizes is it.

the loser thomas bernhardI used to like listening to Glenn Gould and that was until I had read The Loser by Thomas Bernhard and now all I can think of is Bernhard laughing in an insane manner at Glenn’s precision, it was nothing to do with Bernhard, but Bernhard made it his, just by laughing at it.

Manic, reiterative and an attack not only on the novel as form, but an attack on music, the possibility of art, an attack on Glenn Gould and an attack on taste, an attack on life, and naturally an attack on the Austrian state, The Loser by Thomas Bernhard is a commotion of images and thoughts, dressed as the story of three persons, the narrator, the sour Canadian tunester Glenn Gould, and a fictional character called Wertheimer, who is even more sour than Glenn Gould, and who gives up a promising career as a concert pianist, and then kills himself because he realises that he will never be as good a piano artist as Glenn Gould.

Two young men, Jacques Darribehaude and Jean Guenot set off for Meudon in 1960, with the aim of recording the words of Louis-Ferdinand Céline and talking him into making a film, that they would devote to him — but Celine, it is said, began by showing them the door.

‘I do not converse!’ he told them, before setting an appointment for later.

During the interviews, which turned out to be the most concise and revealing he ever gave, he spoke of his influence, citing La Fontaine, Villon, Racine, Proust and Stendhal, and also described his childhood and the years of his apprenticeship, in detail that had been hitherto unknown — outside of his works of course.

samuel best shop front

There are those years when as a young person all you seem to do is go to your dead end job, visit the pub, and otherwise walk the streets of your depressing home town, cracking on about issues relevant and trivial with your best mates.

These are the years caught by Samuel Best in Shop Front, published by Fledgling Press

Aside from introducing the narrator as working in a shop, the title Shop Front evokes that final year at university when the students leave with their  CV and degree presented as their ‘shop front’ to prospective employers.  The title makes me think of visual merchandising: goods or services displayed to highlight their features and benefits.

Whereas many Bernhard novels conclude with a suicide, Cutting Timber, also known as Woodcutters and also in full Cutting Timber: An Irritation (and in German Holzfällen), commences with one.

Much unravels concerning this death in Woodcutters, more than one might normally expect from Thomas Bernhard; indeed we are treated to an unsightly parade of Viennese artistic types, making this a highly pleasurable addition to the misanthropic canon.

The suicide in Woodcutters is treated less as pathetic (The Loser) and less as a mandatory response to living (Old Masters) but as a more of a conventional tragedy which allows the full hypocritical reins of the characters to be let loose, the characters being largely artists, writers, musicians and theatre people.

They are without doubt, and predictably, not an auspicious collection.

Summer 2011 Number

You must not allow yourself to be fooled by the spooky cover of anything anymore anywhere

There are no words on the cover and although that puts you off you are more afeared of the suggestive image anything anymore anywhere presents; dark, empty, foreboding.

Whose camera took that? 

It must be the editor’s flat.

Why is the picture even there?

In The Last Starship From Earth from John Boyd, we join the same kind of dystopian community that served us Logan’s Run — in fact the similarities are so strong, one is obliged to find out which came first. In answering this question, John Boyd comes away second best, as Logan’s Run surfaced in 1967, and The Last Starship From Earth was published in 1968.

The poet Brodie bares himself. All poets bare themselves and their poems sit at a certain balance, between how much the poet is baring, and how much of it we can enjoy or bear to look at. Brodie shows us the edges of his sanity, his demons and his feelings, and with a healthy disregard for how much of it we want to see.  It’s his decision, and we are going to see it all, and it’s brave.  Brodie writes like fuck!  He writes like an apocalyptic angel, and the verses which result appear as narratives in a broken, bedsit kind of way.