Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Voice Imitator : Thomas Bernhard

Of all Bernhard's novels that I have read so far, The Voice Imitator is perhaps the most unusual. For here, the ranting and raving is not as obvious, as relentless but somehow the spectre, the shadow that lurks in this short book is never less sinister, never less haunting.

Described as short stories, the voice imitator is more of a collection of anecdotes, reports, gossip, hearsay. Underneath, one gets the feeling that something more sinister than what one has understood lurks, as the stories or conversations, ( each never more than a page long and some just a few lines) work like parables, like scattered drops of bright wisdom. Those familiar with Bernhard's oeuvre will however recognise his usual acerbic wit, his acidic sarcasm, the subtle and unsubtle bite of his prose, and his usual themes. The stories concern 13 acts of lunacy, 20 surprises, 4 disappearances, 2 instances of libel, 18 suicides, 6 painful deaths and so on.

The beauty of these short stories is the thumping effect that they produce within a few lines. In other words, what an ordinary writer will do with a big tome, Bernhard achieves on a Page, and this is no exaggeration. As Peter Filkin writes, the voice imitator works as a mini-anthology of Bernhard's obsessions with murder, madness and the inability of language to capture, or relieve, the absurdity of life. The other characteristic of these stories is the way the events are narrated, for what is revealed in a few lines is not as important as what is kept hidden, which is not annoying but disconcerting.

Although I liked most of the stories, I will quote this one and enthusiastically recommend The Voice Imitator, especially to those who are well versed with his other works.

This story is called Moospruggers mistake

Professor Moosprugger said that he had gone to the west station in Vienna to pick up a colleague whom he did not know personally but knew only from correspondence. He had expected a different person from the one who actually arrived at the west station. when I drew Moosprugger's attention to the fact that the person who arrives is always different from the person we expect, he got up and left simply and solely for the purpose of breaking off and abandoning all contacts he had ever established throughout his life.

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