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Concrete [Hardcover]

Thomas Bernhard
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Oct 1988
Instead of the book he's meant to write, Rudolph, a Viennese musicologist, produces this tale of procrastination, failure, and despair, a dark and grotesquely funny story of small woes writ large and profound horrors detailed and rehearsed to the point of distraction. "Certain books--few--assert literary importance instantly, profoundly. This new novel by the internationally praised but not widely known Austrian writer is one of those--a book of mysterious dark beauty . . . . [It] is overwhelming; one wants to read it again, immediately, to re-experience its intricate innovations, not to let go of this masterful work."--John Rechy, "Los Angeles Times" "Rudolph is not obstructed by some malfunctions in part of his being--his being itself is a knot. And as Bernhard's narrative proceeds, we begin to register the dimensions of his crisis, its self-consuming circularity . . . . Where rage of this intensity is directed outward, we often find the sociopath; where inward, the suicide. Where it breaks out laterally, onto the page, we sometimes find a most unsettling artistic vision."--Sven Birkerts, "The New Republic"
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 155 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc; American ed edition (13 Oct 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394537815
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394537818
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,428,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind-blowing 16 Jun 2003
Format:Paperback
Concrete is, structurally, a reworking of Notes From Undergroud, but for the post-Holocaust world. The narrator is clearly autobiographical, and is an intensely introspective and introverted hypochondriac. Or is he? He suffers 'sickness', as does Dostoyevsky's man from underground. Most of the novel is dictated from inside his head, and during these parts I experienced the most intense and affecting prose of all time: this was extremely emotional and confessional stuff, but also intensely metaphysical and perspicacious. I recommend this as a foray into Bernhard: read this first, it does not get any better; having said that, it does not get any easier . . !
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5.0 out of 5 stars life on hold 23 April 2014
Format:Paperback
The musicologist who is the main protagonist and narrator of this tale spends nearly all his time knocking around his inherited property somewhere in Austria. He is annoyed by his successful business woman sister's intrusions into his life and sometimes blames her for his inability to get around to writing a book on Mendelssohn. He is neurotic and something of an exaggerator about his poor state of health and cannot see much good in either society or mankind in general. An intellectual who hides from life, he frightens himself in the end with something from his past.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of dark humor and dark psychology. 26 Jun 1998
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The main character has the worst case of writer's block you will probably ever read about -- the book is a great gift for friends who are working on their dissertations or any large project: it offers, as it were, an example of what NOT to do (of course your friend has to have a sense of humor)!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant performance by one of Europe's greatest writers 6 Oct 1997
By thomas.turvey@harpercollins.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Thomas Bernhard is a little-known Austrian writer who, during his life, won every major literary award save the Nobel Prize. Concrete is, in my view, his best work. The tone of this novel, like a Bach concerto, is intertwined and unrelenting. A singular shower of first-person philosophies and opinions from someone quite obviously conflicted. There are no chapters (there aren't any in Bernhard's work) as the text reads like you're inside someone's thought process as they are wrestling with an idea. Some claim Bernhard is a misanthrope and a sexist but this is a very thin reading of him. His wild assertions and outlandish remarks are, in large part, meant to be self-mocking and in that there is great humor. The subtext is as if coming from someone not entirely trustworthy when he speaks which, of course, makes you want to listen. Bernhard is not for everyone. But if you try him and you already are taken with writers like Henry Miller or H.L. Mencken, chances are he will appeal to you on several levels.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excessive, Relentless and Brilliant Narrative 28 Nov 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Thomas Bernhard's "Concrete" is a concentrated, excessive and disturbing stream-of-consciousness monologue by Rudolf, a reclusive, wealthy Viennese music critic who lives alone in a large country house. Rudolf suffers from sarcoidosis, a disease not described in the narrative, which is characterized by inflammation of the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, eyes, skin, and other tissues. Physically miserable and obsessively fearful of death, he also is a man paralyzed by his misanthropic, conflicted, exhaustingly relentless thoughts. Trapped in his own mind, Rudolf is a literary creation directly descended from Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Beckett.
Rudolf has been working for ten years on a biography of Mendelssohn, yet has failed to write even the first line of his work. "I had been planning it for ten years and had repeatedly failed to bring it to fruition, but now had resolved to begin writing it on the twenty-seventh of January at precisely four o'clock in the morning, after the departure of my sister." It is an intention to begin writing that recurs again and again throughout Rudolf's narrative, an intention to begin writing at a specific time in a specific location after the completion of specific preparatory tasks. And in each instance, Rudolf fails to begin, a sign of procrastination bred by obsession or of extreme writer's block or of extreme mental imbalance.
When Rudolf's sister leaves the house, he still cannot begin to write. Despite her departure, her aura remains: "Although she had gone, I still felt the presence of my sister in every part of the house. It would be impossible to imagine a person more hostile to anything intellectual than my sister. The very thought of her robs me of my capacity for any intellectual activity, and she has always stifled at birth any intellectual projects I have had . . . There's no defense against a person like my sister, who is at once so strong and so anti-intellectual; she comes and annihilates whatever has taken shape in one's mind as a result of exerting, indeed of over-exerting one's memory for months on end, whatever it is, even the most trifling sketch on the most trifling subject."
This theme, Rudolf's hatred for his older, worldly sister, runs throughout his narrative, the sister becoming one among many reasons (or excuses) for Rudolf's intellectual paralysis, his inability to write, even his inability to function in day-to-day life.
But it is not merely his sister that Rudolf despises. He also despises Vienna, the city where he once lived (and where his sister continues to live). "Vienna has become a proletarian city through and through, for which no decent person can have anything but scorn and contempt."
A complete recluse, his mental world bordering on solipsistic isolation, Rudolf no longer has any interest in social life of any kind. "To think that I once not only loved parties," he reflects, "but actually gave them and was capable of enjoying them!" Now he sees no reason or need for the company of others, for the people Rudolf spent years trying to "put right" but who only regarded him as a "fool" for his efforts. As Rudolf thinks, in a long, discursive interior response to his sister's claim that his desolate, morgue-like house, "is crying out for society":
"There comes a time when we actually think about these people, and then suddenly we hate them, and so we get rid of them, or they get rid of us; because we see them so clearly all at once, we have to withdraw from their company or they from ours. For years I believed that I couldn't be alone, that I needed all these people, but in fact I don't: I've got on perfectly well without them."
Rudolf is isolated in his own mind, a man who cannot accept the imperfections of others and of the world, but also cannot accept his own imperfections. And it is perhaps this, more than anything else, which explains his inability to get along in the world, his inability even to write the first sentence of his Mendelssohn biography. "Once, twenty-five years ago, I managed to complete something on Webern in Vienna, but as soon as I completed it I burned it, because it hadn't turned out properly." As Rudolf says, near the end of his short, but exhausting, narrative:
"I've actually been observing myself for years, if not for decades; my life now consists of self-observation and self-contemplation, which naturally leads to self-condemnation, self-rejection and self-mockery. For years I have lived in this state of self-condemnation, self-abnegation and self-mockery, in which ultimately I always have to take refuge in order to save myself."
"Concrete" leaves the reader exhausted from Rudolf's excessive and relentless narrative, giving truth to the remarkable power of Bernhard's literary imagination and narrative voice. It is a stunning literary achievement, perhaps the best work of one of Austria's greatest twentieth century authors.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece 9 Sep 2001
By "elljay" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A terminally ill writer has spent the last ten years trying to write the FIRST SENTENCE of his masterpiece, and, failing that, spends this book-length monologue venting his outrage at everything and everyone--including himself--he holds responsible for his plight. This is one of the best examples of the stream of consciousness technique I've ever come across; despite the absence of chapters or paragraph breaks, the prose is extremely readable. It's a bitterly funny book (the rant about how domesticated dogs are destroying the world is the most hilarious thing I've read in some time), but it's the genuinely unsettling finale that puts this book into the top tier of modern novels. An absolutely first-rate book; don't let Bernhard's reputation as a difficult "experimental" writer scare you away from it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Proust with Vitriol? 29 Mar 2007
By W. Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Leave it to Bernhard to come up with the ultimate writer's irony: failing to write the first sentence of his masterpiece, even after the most meticulous planning (as you'll see when you read the book), and naturally failing to write the book he intended, a musicologist ends up with a 150-page masterpiece about...failing to write the first sentence of his masterpiece. Of course, there's more to it than that. Especially memorable are the musicologist's stinging meditations on his sister.

I've read all of Bernhard's novels, and I always recommend this one to those unfamiliar with him. I've read it twice; it's short enough to be read in an afternoon, and the effect after reading it is, "I have to read this again!"

I like his other novels for other reasons, and will even concede that Correction is probably his most masterful work, requiring immense concentration, but Concrete and Woodcutters are about his best for plain grousing.

Reading Concrete, you feel that there is a kind of stillness of air that's hard to describe.

It's too bad that this book has apparently gone out of print again. Definitely check this one out if you see it somewhere.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excessive, Relentless and Brilliant Narrative 22 April 2002
By "botatoe" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Thomas Bernhard's "Concrete" is a concentrated, excessive and disturbing stream-of-consciousness monologue by Rudolf, a reclusive, wealthy Viennese music critic who lives alone in a large country house. Rudolf suffers from sarcoidosis, a disease not described in the narrative, which is characterized by inflammation of the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, eyes, skin, and other tissues. Physically miserable and obsessively fearful of death, he also is a man paralyzed by his misanthropic, conflicted, exhaustingly relentless thoughts. Trapped in his own mind, Rudolf is a literary creation directly descended from Dostoyevsky, Kafka and Beckett.
Rudolf has been working for ten years on a biography of Mendelssohn, yet has failed to write even the first line of his work. "I had been planning it for ten years and had repeatedly failed to bring it to fruition, but now had resolved to begin writing it on the twenty-seventh of January at precisely four o'clock in the morning, after the departure of my sister." It is an intention to begin writing that recurs again and again throughout Rudolf's narrative, an intention to begin writing at a specific time in a specific location after the completion of specific preparatory tasks. And in each instance, Rudolf fails to begin, a sign of procrastination bred by obsession or of extreme writer's block or of extreme mental imbalance.
When Rudolf's sister leaves the house, he still cannot begin to write. Despite her departure, her aura remains: "Although she had gone, I still felt the presence of my sister in every part of the house. It would be impossible to imagine a person more hostile to anything intellectual than my sister. The very thought of her robs me of my capacity for any intellectual activity, and she has always stifled at birth any intellectual projects I have had . . . There's no defense against a person like my sister, who is at once so strong and so anti-intellectual; she comes and annihilates whatever has taken shape in one's mind as a result of exerting, indeed of over-exerting one's memory for months on end, whatever it is, even the most trifling sketch on the most trifling subject."
This theme, Rudolf's hatred for his older, worldly sister, runs throughout his narrative, the sister becoming one among many reasons (or excuses) for Rudolf's intellectual paralysis, his inability to write, even his inability to function in day-to-day life.
But it is not merely his sister that Rudolf despises. He also despises Vienna, the city where he once lived (and where his sister continues to live). "Vienna has become a proletarian city through and through, for which no decent person can have anything but scorn and contempt."
A complete recluse, his mental world bordering on solipsistic isolation, Rudolf no longer has any interest in social life of any kind. "To think that I once not only loved parties," he reflects, "but actually gave them and was capable of enjoying them!" Now he sees no reason or need for the company of others, for the people Rudolf spent years trying to "put right" but who only regarded him as a "fool" for his efforts. As Rudolf thinks, in a long, discursive interior response to his sister's claim that his desolate, morgue-like house, "is crying out for society":
"There comes a time when we actually think about these people, and then suddenly we hate them, and so we get rid of them, or they get rid of us; because we see them so clearly all at once, we have to withdraw from their company or they from ours. For years I believed that I couldn't be alone, that I needed all these people, but in fact I don't: I've got on perfectly well without them."
Rudolf is isolated in his own mind, a man who cannot accept the imperfections of others and of the world, but also cannot accept his own imperfections. And it is perhaps this, more than anything else, which explains his inability to get along in the world, his inability even to write the first sentence of his Mendelssohn biography. "Once, twenty-five years ago, I managed to complete something on Webern in Vienna, but as soon as I completed it I burned it, because it hadn't turned out properly." As Rudolf says, near the end of his short, but exhausting, narrative:
"I've actually been observing myself for years, if not for decades; my life now consists of self-observation and self-contemplation, which naturally leads to self-condemnation, self-rejection and self-mockery. For years I have lived in this state of self-condemnation, self-abnegation and self-mockery, in which ultimately I always have to take refuge in order to save myself."
"Concrete" leaves the reader exhausted from Rudolf's excessive and relentless narrative, giving truth to the remarkable power of Bernhard's literary imagination and narrative voice. It is a stunning literary achievement, perhaps the best work of one of Austria's greatest twentieth century authors.
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