Old Masters: A Comedy by Thomas Bernhard (1985)
Wow, and I thought rants were for blogs and pundits. This book is an unbroken 150-page paragraph, and, well, this is what you’re in for:
When we see the crowded millions of state people in the big cities we feel sick, because we also feel sick when we see the state. Every morning, as we wake up, we feel sick at this state of ours, and when we step out into the street we feel sick at the state people who populate this state. Humanity is a gigantic state which, if we are honest, makes us sick each time we wake up. Like everybody, I live in a state which makes me sick when I wake up.
Hate-jazz prose, but the writing doesn’t elicit “yikes” reactions all the time. Bernhard, an Austrian who wrote about post-World War II life in his country, is branded by many critics as “difficult,” and I think a lot of them just type the word, or its synonyms, to pat themselves on the back.
Don’t let professionals claim Bernhard. This is great fiction that you can just pick up, crack open, and absorb. Old Masters is a hotshot sponge of real anxieties, and the sponge is soaking wet: you can bathe in it (no one needs to teach you how to bathe), and you will feel scrubbed. Bernhard may be an iconoclastic hater, but moments of great humanity spring from this novel. These characters spew garbage but, despite themselves, let their heart out; and that’s when I know I am in the hands of someone who really, really cares.
I laughed, I cried, I immediately re-read it again. The second time I read it I didn’t do the deed start to finish; I simply opened it up to random pages and fell into the text.
It’s caustic, for sure, to the hilt, but never unfair. Bernhard’s not the answer, he didn’t seem to want to be (what a relief!), but I think his idea of a screaming fiction is.