Woodcutters | Thomas Bernhard

This is my first foray into the bitter and twisted world of Thomas Bernhard, and unlikely to be the last.  

‘Woodcutters’ is the evil twin of ‘Mrs Dalloway’. A dinner party from hell in 1980s Vienna, the action (totally not the right word) spans a few hours but decades of memory, narrated as a stream of consciousness. Actually it’s more a stream of vitriol, as the unnamed main character rages inwardly about his hosts, their decor and furniture and clothes, all the guests, the Viennese art world, the food, and a host of other grievances. For a book in which nothing happens, it’s oddly difficult to describe.

Basic summary: man goes to dinner party, hates every moment, drinks, eats, leaves.

Or: man hears of suicide of a woman he once knew; coincidentally that day runs into mutual friends who invite him to a dinner party after her funeral, goes, hates every moment, eats, drinks, leaves.

Alternatively: man’s former lover who he admired in many ways but was ultimately repelled by hangs herself; runs into mutual friends who invite him to a dinner party after her funeral; party is hijacked by pompous elderly actor talking about himself until 4am; extensive fulminations on art, literature, politics and society; hates every moment and everyone there especially former friends and lovers, drinks, eats, leaves feeling wistful and perplexed.

The prose is so vicious, repetitive and absurd as to be strangely camp. It can be read as deeply misanthropic, yet all the people the main character now hates he once loved, and the pompous actor who he loathes at first he then begins to admire. Same love-hate for Vienna.

It’s complicated.

Short and not at all sweet, weirdly compelling while deliberately boring, strangely amusing, and horribly delightful.