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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Extinction (1986) by Thomas Bernhard


Book Review
Extinction (1986)
 by Thomas Bernhard

   Within the precincts of the original 1001 Books list, Bernhard is a major 20th century German author, with six novels making the cut.  That number was reduced in half for the first revision in 2008.  Extinction, his last novel, survived the initial reduction, and that makes sense.  Extinction is by far Bernhard's longest work, and it serves as a kind of summation for his entire oeuvre.

  Loosely put, Bernhard's concern is to serve an indictment against the entire world, focused through his perspective as an Austrian national living in the aftermath of World War II.  Although the characters change, they all share a common narrative style: close, cramped, obsessively and repetitively teasing out all the potential consequences of a certain emotion or experience.   It's novelist as OCD sufferer,  While some of his works are divided into parts, chapters and paragraphs are non-existent.  Instead the reader - of any of his books - is forced to follow the narrator through pages and pages of densely written prose.

   Extinction is one of those novels that both infuriates and entralls.  Even though it is only 311 pages, Extinction took me weeks to read, because I could not keep my place.  Eventually I was forced to sit down and read it in 50 to 100 page gulps.  Every time I put Extinction down, upon resuming I would have to re-read the previous few pages.  Each page took me several minutes to read- unusual- since I usually read something more than one page a minute for a typical work of fiction (100 pages an hour).

  I've been bringing up Thomas Bernhard in casual conversation whenever possible- which is tough- but I've yet to find a single other person who has even heard of him.  He's worth checking out if only for that reason, since his books are widely translated and available.  The end of Extinction, where Bernhard tells his readers (via his narrator) that the only way to avoid the catastrophe of modernity is to "kill yourself before the millennium" rings eerily true in 2017.  Thomas Bernhard is not surprised by Donald Trump.  Nothing could be less surprising to him.

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