This collection of four stories by the writer George Steiner called “one of the masters of European fiction” is, as longtime fans of Thomas Bernhard would expect, bleakly comic and inspiringly rancorous. The subject of his stories vary: in one, Goethe summons Wittgenstein to discuss the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; “Montaigne: A Story (in 22 Installments)” tells of a young man sealing himself in a tower to read; “Reunion,” meanwhile, satirizes that very impulse to escape; and the final story rounds out the collection by making Bernhard himself a victim, persecuted by his greatest enemy—his very homeland of Austria. Underpinning all these variously comic, tragic, and bitingly satirical excursions is Bernhard’s abiding interest in, and deep knowledge of, the philosophy of doubt.
Bernhard’s work can seem off-putting on first acquaintance, as he suffers no fools and offers no hand to assist the unwary reader. But those who make the effort to engage with Bernhard on his own uncompromising terms will discover a writer with powerful comic gifts, penetrating insight into the failings and delusions of modern life, and an unstinting desire to tell the whole, unvarnished, unwelcome truth. Start here, readers; the rewards are great.