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Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard
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Woodcutters (1984)

by Thomas Bernhard

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Trilogie der Künste (2)

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English (10)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All (12)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This isn't really a novel, being a long monologue of a single man about his meeting with old friends and subsequent artistic dinner. A fast read, also as a result of the continuous repetitions which characterize the mode of speaking of the protagonist. Funny at times, it is a rather annoying story, predictable and without a real conclusion. Disappointing. ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
Before the year 2012 was out, I needed my usual fix of Thomas Bernhard... I've picked my favourite: Holzfällen" (meaning literally "Lumbering").

I've read this in German a long time ago. This time round I wanted to tackle him through an English translation.

I've chosen the McLintock translation, due to the raving reviews, and I must say it never felt I was reading a translation. At the end of this English version, I wanted to read again the German version, just to feel the flow of reading a book in the form of 192-pages-no-chapters paragraph in Bernhard's German "prose"... After reading it no one will be able to forget it! How I'd love to see it on stage.

This book embodies what I love the most about Bernhard intense prose. It just drags you in as though you are the narrator. Advantages of the Ich-Erzähler (first person narrator), but not every writer can give the sense of absolute narrative immersion...

As usual I won't bother detailing with the plot. Not important...

The novel takes place in Vienna, also known by the Austrians themselves as "Die Künstlervernichtungsmaschine" (the artists killing machine ...) By this mouthful of a term in German, you can see what it's all about. If not read a synopsis in Amazon.

Only Bernhard can write like this. It's glorious to read how he, sentence after sentence, depicts a very bizarre but not foreign world from the point of view of an observer (the narrator - Bernhard himself?). While reading it, I found myself reading and re-reading several sentences as not to miss anything.

Definitely one of the greatest testimonials of the German Language of the 20th century.

PS. I still remember it was with this novel that I came across the german word "Ohrensessel" ("Wing Chair") for the first time… lol
" ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
The action of Holzfällen can be summed up in a single paragraph - and that's exactly what Bernhard does, but the paragraph in question is 320 pages long. The narrator has been invited to an "artistic supper party" in the rather grand Gentzgasse apartment of some old acquaintances, the Auersbergers (a composer and a singer), whom he happened to bump into in the street after having been away from Vienna for a long time. The guest of honour at the party is an actor, who keeps everyone else waiting until long after midnight before he arrives from the Burgtheater, where he's starring in Ibsen's Wild duck. In the first half of the book the narrator thinks in a wing-chair about the party, the pretentious literary guests, and the funeral of his old friend Joana, which he and most of the others had attended that afternoon. Then the dinner starts, with the actor dominating the conversation in a fatuous monologue (Bernhard carefully constructs this so that Ibsen is never actually mentioned, and several of the guests are left with the impression that he's talking about where you can eat the best wild duck...). After the meal, the guests move into the music room, and the actor gets so drunk that his pretentious façade drops and in a mock-Joycean epiphany he actually talks good sense for a short while. This inspired monologue ends with the enigmatic words "Wald, Hochwald, Holzfällen, das ist es immer gewesen" (Forest, high forest, tree-felling, that's what it's always been), which the narrator takes as an ironic summary of Viennese cultural life, and then the party breaks up, with the narrator deciding as he walks home (in a typical Bernhard touch, he's going in precisely the wrong direction) that he must write about this evening right away, before it's too late.

On the surface this is a satirical novel about a bunch of pretentious artistic people spending an evening in fatuous, self-important posing, and about the way artists and critics live by chopping down whatever is beautiful around them. And it's also presumably a roman-à-clef, since it became a runaway bestseller in Austria as soon as it emerged that Bernhard was being sued for libel by a composer with a name very like Auersberger. (Not that Bernhard was any stranger to libel actions: this one, eventually settled out of court, must have been at least his third.) But the real joy of it, as with everything Bernhard wrote, is the way he uses language to drill down and discover meaning. He manipulates words and phrases the way a composer would in a piece of music, modulating, transposing, inverting, repeating, saying something in three or four or a dozen slightly different ways to help us explore exactly what he might mean by using that particular term or expression. He can take a complete cliché and make us see a profound and quite unexpected meaning in it, or he can make an innocent-looking phrase bounce back and expose the shallowness and hypocrisy of the person who used it (you can imagine the unfortunate Frau Auersberger having nightmares about the expression künstlerisches Abendessen for the rest of her life, even as she strikes Bernhard off her guest-list...).

Wonderful, seriously depressing and hilariously funny all at the same time. ( )
3 vote thorold | Apr 7, 2016 |
Because I maintain http://www.thomasbernhard.org, I'm biased. But nevertheless, Woodcutters for me was particularly affecting in the strange way that it overrides the most scathing descriptions of the narrator to reveal the sadness of their lives and aspirations.

This includes the acerbic man in the wing chair narrating the events and recalling their past relations, who is poignant in his role as an outsider, one completely involved with the group but not connected with them, or, it appears, anyone.

For newcomers to Bernhard, this might be a good place to start -- it's not long, so good as training in the art of reading book-length paragraphs. ( )
  V.V.Harding | Apr 21, 2015 |
***** - Prima lettura
****1/2 - Seconda lettura
---
Ripreso in mano dopo quasi 20 anni, questo testo non perde una virgola di quello che era; anzi, forse ne acquista. Mentre le 5 stelle di qualche anno fa erano anche voto di parte (Bernhard per me ha sempre 5 stelle, fatta qualche rara eccezione), ora la lettura si fa un poco piu' annoiata, e risente della lentezza del processo analitico. Si legge con un sorriso sornione, pensando allo sdegno degli austriaci tronfi, citati durante una cena artistica - che avrebbe irritato anche me. E' un piacere vedere come Benhard proceda come un cacciatore, lento e deciso, sincero e unico, non traviato da altri pensieri che non siano il suo. Oltre al cinismo di facciata, che rimane perfetto, la pagina richiede tanta concentrazione, se si vogliono seguire queste frasi azzurre che si sovrappongono l'un l'altra. Tra le altre, le invettive finali dell'attore del Burg sono davvero notevoli.
Poi, a parte questo libro in particolare, rimane un grande rispetto per l'uomo che ha fatto del suo malessere un arte del raccontare, e che ha saputo, con perizia lenta e inesorabile, applicare il taglio dell'intelligenza a tutto il suo essere. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bernhard, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fleckhaus, WillyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holtzmann, ThomasSprechersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roinila, TarjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Being unable to make people more reasonable,

I preferred to be happy away from them.


Voltaire
Dedication
First words
While everyone was waiting for the actor, who had promised to join the dinner party in the Gentzgasse after the premiere of The Wild Duck, I observed the Auersbergers carefully from the same wing chair I had sat in nearly every day during the fifties, reflecting that it had been a grave mistake to accept their invitation. [David McLintock translation]
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226043967, Paperback)

This controversial portrayal of Viennese artistic circles begins as the writer-narrator arrives at an 'artistic dinner' given by a composer and his society wife—a couple that the writer once admired and has come to loathe. The guest of honor, an actor from the Burgtheater, is late. As the other guests wait impatiently, they are seen through the critical eye of the narrator, who begins a silent but frenzied, sometimes maniacal, and often ambivalent tirade against these former friends, most of whom were brought together by the woman whom they had buried that day. Reflections on Joana's life and suicide are mixed with these denunciations until the famous actor arrives, bringing a culmination to the evening for which the narrator had not even thought to hope.

"Mr. Bernhard's portrait of a society in dissolution has a Scandinavian darkness reminiscent of Ibsen and Strindberg, but it is filtered through a minimalist prose. . . . Woodcutters offers an unusually intense, engrossing literary experience."—Mark Anderson, New York Times Book Review

"Musical, dramatic and set in Vienna, Woodcutters. . . .resembles a Strauss operetta with a libretto by Beckett."—Joseph Costes, Chicago Tribune

"Thomas Bernhard, the great pessimist-rhapsodist of German literature . . . never compromises, never makes peace with life. . . . Only in the pure, fierce isolation of his art can he get justice."—Michael Feingold, Village Voice

"In typical Bernhardian fashion the narrator is moved by hatred and affection for a society that he believes destroys the very artistic genius it purports to glorify. A superb translation."—Library Journal

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:17 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Anticipating the arrival of a star actor, the narrator dismantles the hollow pretentiousness at the heart of the Austrian bourgeoisie. The effect is devastating, the horror only redeemed by the humour.

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