It says something about Thomas Bernhard that one of his more upbeat novels ends with a suicide.
I have been stuck in this rut in my fiction reading habits, where I find most characters in most books alienating. Thomas Bernhard’s are an exception, but it’s not clear that reading the monologues of depressives and master procrastinators adds to my quality of life.
I had to nearly coerce myself to finish reading The Limeworks because the entire thing is nothing but the inner thoughts of a procrastinator who isolates himself and his invalid wife in an inaccessible abode, ostensibly so that he can carry out his research in peace, but never actually manages to write down any of his research results, and most days barely gets any experiments done. Right at the start of the book you’re told that the protagonist has killed his wife and gone crazy and is now in police custody. The rest of the book consists almost entirely of his maniacal habits and thoughts preceding that event. Most of Bernhard’s books are that way — heavy on monologues, light on events.
Which was why I was pleasantly surprised by Yes. It is similar to The Limeworks in also having a protagonist who is a master procrastinator and has not been able to get any research done for several months. But things actually happen in Yes. The protagonist meets a mysterious Persian woman whose life story is gradually revealed. They briefly help each other out of depression. Then they get bored, realise they are only reinforcing each other’s foibles, and stop meeting. The woman locks herself in a half-built house and starts decomposing. The protagonist visits her against his better judgment and is told to never do it again. He doesn’t. She eventually throws herself under a lorry.
That’s actually an upbeat ending. I was expecting it to end with just her continued wasting away, which would have been more depressing. Also, unusually for Bernhard, the positive development in the middle of the story actually led to some rather lyrical writing. Finally, it’s rare to see intensely expressed emotions in Bernhard that aren’t negative. One can’t help but wonder if any events in Bernhard’s life paralleled the writing of this relatively positive book.
I wonder why Bernhard hates Linz so much. Many of his books contain rants about that city.