Author(s): Thomas Bernhard
'Probably nothing exists that would prepare one for Bernhard's machined vehemence, though once you've read one, you perhaps start to crave the bitter taste and the savage not-quite-humour ... Genius.' - Michael Hofmann
Instead of the book he is meant to write, Rudolph, a Viennese musicologist, produces this dark and grotesquely funny account of small woes writ large, of profound horrors detailed and rehearsed to the point of distraction. We learn of Rudolph's sister, whose help he invites then reviles; his 'really marvellous' house which he hates; the suspicious illness he carefully nurses; his ten-year-long attempt to write the perfect opening sentence; and his escape to the island of Majorca, which turns out to be the site of someone else's very real horror story, and ultimately brings him no release from himself.
Concrete is Thomas Bernhard at his very finest: a bleakly hilarious insight into procrastination and failure that scratches the murky depths of our souls.
In a single brilliant book-length hysterical paragraph, Rudolph, Bernhard’s narrator, a middle-aged invalid both incapacitated and sustained by his neuroses, obsessed with writing his great work on the composer Mendelssohn Bartholdy but of course incapable of even beginning to write, neurasthenically procrastinating and irritated, riven by every possible ambivalence, unable to write whilst his sister is visiting and unable to write unless she is present, hating his sister but dependent upon her, needing his home but stifled by it, rants about everything from making too many notes to the idiocy of keeping dogs. Bernhard’s delineation of an individual whose interiority and isolation has attained the highest degree is flawless, devastating and very funny. No sooner has Rudolph made a categorical assertion than he begins to move towards its opposite: after describing the cruelty of his sister towards him, we become increasingly aware of her concern for him and his mental state; no sooner does he attain the solitude of his grand Austrian country home (soon after the book opens he makes the categorical assertion, “We must be alone and free from all human contact if we wish to embark upon an intellectual task!”, a common fallacious predicate that one commonly inclines towards but which subverts one’s ends (he follows this swiftly with another self-defeating assertion: “I still don’t know how to word the first sentence, and before I know the wording of the first sentence I can’t begin any work.”)) than he is absolutely certain that he must travel to Palma if he is to write his book on Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Towards the end of the book, we learn that Rudolph did indeed go to Palma, where he is writing this account (instead of his work on Mendelssohn Bartholdy) after learning of the recent suicide of a young woman he had met there on a previous occasion following the death of her husband (who was discovered fallen onto concrete beneath their hotel balcony). Such was the isolation of Rudolph’s interiority that he was incapable of taking timely action to help the unfortunate young woman, though it was easily within his means to do so, incapable of making authentic human contact, stifled by his own ambivalences and self-obsession (the undeclared ironic tragedy being that he may possibly have returned to Palma in order to help the young woman but that he is of course too late, her suicide triggering the self-excoriation that comprises the book).