By Thomas Bernhard. Translated from the German (IN DER HOHE) by Russell Stockman.
116 pages with a 24 page afterword by Sophie Wilkins
London: Quartet Encounters, 1991 (From the 1989 German edition.)
ISBN: 0-7043-0206-3

Comments of Bob Corbett
July 2001

On The Mountain is Thomas Bernhard's first novel, written in 1959, published posthumously, but prepared for publication by Bernhard himself just before he died in 1989.

This long one-sentence prose poem has been celebrated by critics with high praise and Sophie Wilkins, translator of other Bernhard works and close acquaintance of his, in her excellent afterword, compares this work to Franz Kafka's early autobiographical piece, "Description of a Struggle."

I was much less convinced. I found it extremely confusing, lacking coherence and often boring. It is Thomas Bernhard without the strong narrator-character who reveals to us not just events, but his particular, if often crazy and contradictory, point of view.

Completed in 1959, it is episodic notes of a court reporter jotted here and there giving us glimpses of his life and thoughts about people, the state of human kind, and, of course, how horrible his beloved Austria really is. One can see all the seeds of Bernhard's later greatness. It is useful as a pointer and to see Bernhard's development. However, the novel lacks the essence of what I find so rewarding of the narrator-character, a central feature of his more mature works. The narrator is always so special, going back and forth between his dominant insights of pessimism, meaninglessness and negativity, contradicted now and again by brighter passages of hope, care and even significant sensitivity to others. Missing that developed narrator-character, the most significant characteristic of what I see as the essence of Bernhard's greatness, I came away from On The Mountain quite dissatisfied.

Perhaps the most interesting and satisfying facet is that the work is even more rawly autobiographical than most of is other works which are themselves significantly autobiographical.

An added delight to the volume I have is the 24 page afterword by Sophie Wilkins. She gives an analysis of this particular novel, an assessment of Bernhard's place in contemporary literature -- in which she accords him a place alongside Franz Kafka himself -- and she adds a short biography with memories of personal contacts and experiences. This piece is rich, interesting, useful and relatively rare in the English language. These short 24 pages alone are worth the price of the novel!

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu