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Gargoyles (Phoenix Fiction) Paperback – 1 Jun 1986

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Product details

  • Paperback: 214 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (1 Jun. 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226043991
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226043999
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 13.4 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 938,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Tucker on 1 Sept. 2005
Format: Paperback
This early novel from the Austrian master introduces many Bernhardian themes that will become familiar to readers that become drawn into the strangely addictive world of Bernhardian eccentrics and deranged visionaries. The first half of this novel begins conventionally enough, being an account of a young boys journey with his father as a peripatetic doctor in a bleak mountain region somewhere in central europe. The unrelieved suffering of the benighted inhabitants is matched only by the harshness of the landscape. What relief the doctor brings only seems a temporary respite to the doomed residents he encounters.
The second half of this novel introduces the mature Bernhard style, being the solipsistic musings of a clearly unhinged aristocrat. The decline of the Prince and his dynasty represent the corruptions of spirit and anomie that haunt the country as a whole and will become an abiding theme of the Bernhardian figure.
Much imitated but rarely equaled, the Bernhard oeuvre stands as a unique monument to the follies and madness that was 20th century european history.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 29 reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Disease, insanity, perversion, murder, suicide...its "Take Your Children to Work Day" Thomas Bernhard-style 2 May 2007
By Mark Nadja - Published on
Format: Paperback
"The catastrophe begins with getting out of bed," writes Thomas Bernhard, and that one sentence can be said to sum up his view of human life. If you're of a tendency to agree, you're of a tendency to enjoy the work of literature's answer to anyone obtuse enough to tell you to "Have a Nice Day!" Just be sure to have plenty of Zoloft and Wellbutrin XL on hand because Bernhard is potent stuff.

If "Gargoyles" were a boxing match instead of a book and Bernhard a fighter you could say he came out swinging hard at the opening bell and faded away in the middle rounds...only to come back stronger than ever to knock you out cold in the end. The minimal plot describes a son who, having returned from university for the weekend, accompanies his physician father on his daily rounds through the countryside. The day starts offs with a brutal murder at a local inn and ends with a visit to a mad prince holed up in his mountain estate. In between, father and son check in on a variety of patients--each one of them a "gargoyle," a human grotesque, suffering from one or another of the awful maladies of existence. Hemmed in by illness, grief, loneliness, age, hopelessness, these poor souls are a parade of human misery, the victims of the horrors that flesh is heir to.

The son is the ostensible narrator of these events, but Bernhard has him take a primarily background role, letting the patients and their grim circumstances speak for themselves. This technique culminates in the final one hundred or so pages of *Gargoyles* which are mainly the text of an extended monologue by the novel's most intriguing character: the prince of a large and decaying estate who is clearly on the verge of the sort of insanity that may be the clearest wisdom of all.

It's precisely this extended monologue that proves to be the strongest--and weakest--part of the novel. There were stretches where this speech read like nothing more than the ravings of your typical schizophrenic--gibberish interspersed with the occasional gleam of brilliant insight and dark humor--and, as such, became somewhat tiresome. But just when you start to sense your eyes glazing over, Bernard kicks things into overdrive and the prince's monologue becomes a riveting panegyric of proverb and prophecy that relentlessly hammers shut every door that one might have hoped could lead to an escape from human despair. This `madman's monologue,' which at first seems mind-numbingly arbitrary and inconsistent builds in coherence and power until the novel's finale where Bernhard sets off a nihilistic fireworks display of devastating aphoristic brilliance. It's truly one of the great "mad rants" of world literature--a tour de force performance not to be missed.

Not without its weaknesses, *Gargoyles* is nonetheless a challenging and rewarding novel that manages, ultimately, to be more than a `mere' novel--but an irrefutable testament to the tragedy of the human condition...a tragedy that, incredibly, is not without its share of laughs.
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
For lovers of long mad monologues only... 30 April 2007
By Mark Nadja - Published on
Format: Paperback
Open to the first page, take a deep breath, and begin reading--if you do it just right, it'll be hard to stop until you reach the end of this extraordinary 170-page diatribe of envy, spite, self-loathing, and misanthropy that plumbs the depth of the narrator's all-inclusive contempt for life and practically everyone living it, including himself. We're talking a novel that is one uninterrupted paragraph from beginning to end, spoken by one character, who's not very reliable, and quite possibly entirely demented. It's as if one of the more troubled heroes of a Dostoyevsky novel escaped to deliver a monologue written by Samuel Beckett. That'll give you an approximate idea of the style of *The Loser,* which is definitely not for everyone, the novel being more about the labyrinthine workings of an obsessed mind than it is about the ostensible events of the so-called "plot." This plot--the intertwined fate of three young musicians, one of whom happens to be the famed piano artist Glenn Gould, and another who commits suicide--becomes the touchstone Bernhard uses to explore his themes of artistic ambition and the destructive power of genius, as well as the double-sided nature of friendship.

Bernhard, like Beckett, was a playwright, and it shows in the intricate, serpentine "speech" the narrator delivers in *The Loser*--in fact, it might even be more rewarding if one were to read the text out loud to better "hear" the full intent of Bernhard's lush and cadenced "madman's" prose. For the novel is indeed a soliloquy: contradictory, ironic, by turns concealing and revealing, a confession that confesses the very impossibility of telling the absolute truth.

*The Loser* is ultimately a novel for those who find language more intriguing than story, the mind's interior struggle for meaning more dramatic than physical incident. As such, it's a work of the first order. I cant recommend it highly enough.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Success from the viewpoint of failure. 28 Nov. 2010
By Chicken Muffin - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
People love to read books about heroes and immerse themselves in what it's like to succeed, but few contemplate what it's like to be on the other side; what it's like to give up.

The Loser is a snapshot of such a man who is, ironically, destroyed by his own genius and perfectionism in the face of another genius. Unlike his competition, The Loser (who lacks self direction and confidence), and Glenn Gould (who is brilliant but only capable of achieving, not of seeing his faults), the narrator is capable of seeing his flaws and misfortunes alongside his ability, a deadly combination which leads to his demise and despair. He seems to recognize, but not actually admit to himself, that he gave up his one chance at happiness, but by being so concerned with his past blunders he neglects his fortunes, most notably that he is the only one of the three central characters in the book who is still alive.

I admit that this is the only book by Bernhard I have read (though I now plan to read more), and I only read it because, ironically, I had become obsessed with Glenn Gould during a research project. Needless to say, I was taken by surprise. This isn't a book about Glenn Gould, it's about genius and its effects on the psyche of the men who existed alongside it; the ones you never hear about because they didn't achieve what they had in mind. But it's not just about failure, it's about the even more frightening realization that one did not succeed not because he has yet to, but because he cannot.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Excellent 28 Oct. 2010
By Steiner - Published on
Format: Paperback
A masterful creation about artistic genius, jealousy, betrayal, and failure. Thomas Bernhard has constructed an immensely readable novel about the competitive relationship between three piano virtuosos, and how Glenn Gould drives the other two into self-abdication. The Loser puts Bernhard's own inimitable voice into the central character as he attempts to piece together the protracted process of descent his friend and colleague falls prey to. This text has astonishingly accomplished portraits of the nature of artistic genius and its strangely bewitching tendencies. In the final analysis, Bernhard asks us-as well as himself-whether or not we can truly face our own insurmountable limitations and appreciate divine genius when we finally encounter it. Unfortunately for his protagonists, and perhaps for himself, the answer to that question is a resounding "No."
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Seems The Most Accessible, Until... 17 Aug. 2000
By David Brazil - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is Thomas Bernhard's first novel, and at first it seems to be a rambling collection of grotesques in the manner of WINESBURG, OHIO. But then, after the insane industrialist and the boy in the cage, we reach the realm of the prince, and the novel takes off into the territory Bernhard explores in his later books -- that is, breathless, disjointed, almost-incoherent blocks of text. Note that I'm not suggesting this is a bad thing. Here it's wonderful. And although the prince's rant is quite exhausting, it's exhausting in a good way (I had to put the book down a few times during Molly's soliloquoy too, but that doesn't mean it's bad, just perhaps a bit demanding). An obvious choice for any Bernhard fan, and just possibly a good trick to play on someone, who will believe they're reading a naturalistic novel, until....
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