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Gargoyles (Vintage International) Paperback – 17 Oct 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Inc (17 Oct. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400077559
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077557
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 800,525 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) 6 reviews
27 of 27 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.
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....
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Courageous Madness 3 Dec. 2003
By The Passionate Ornithologist - Published on
Format: Paperback
"In reading, one tries to ignore oneself." So says The Prince, whose monologue dominates this book. My advice I to give to a prospective reader of Bernhard's masterful first novel would be just this: ignore yourself, don't let yourself be distracted as you plunge headlong into this book. I agree with the other reviewer, that this novel starts off like "Winesburg, Ohio" (albeit a strange, violent one) with its glimpses into the "grotesqueries" of its small town inhabitants. But eventually this novel is totally consumed by one of the characters (The Prince) who takes off on a startling, often narcotic, diatribe against society, metaphysics, family, the mind, the body... almost anything one could think of. ...But these are all literary hinges, and thus discountable when it gets down to the bone of things.
There are a few hints that the Prince is modelled on various aspects of Bernhard's character, namely, the obsession with reading newspapers and the contempt he had for Austria. It's almost as though Bernhard used the character of the Prince to say what he couldn't say, which isn't so startling in itself (most writers do this)--but it's the manner in which he does it, as well as the subject matter twisted through the rabid mind of the Prince, that sets it apart.
"I am a barometer that is no longer functioning."
Haunting and yet infuriating, difficult and somehow addictive... 22 Dec. 2011
By Flippy - Published on
Format: Paperback
There are books we read not because we really want to read them but because they demand to be read. Gargoyles is such a book. It is no way pleasurable, there is almost something close to reader-masochism going on here.

If you've read (slugged through, I should say) The Castle by Franz Kafka and though you're not quite sure how you managed to get through it and question your reasons for being so persistent and need something similar (I don't know why...), you're in luck. Bernhard has written a work with the same grotesque feel, the same sense of absurdity and tragedy.

The story is rather basic and no doubt the other reviews you've read have given you a clear indication of the basic story. Let us just say this book is a dark mood that sweeps over you. There is a Gothic intensity to the narrative and though Bernhard is not one to elaborate on scene and character, it is the starkness of his prose that helps paint the morbid landscape and sculpt the features of his actors.

The section dealing with The Prince is perhaps the most intense and if you're in for the long haul, be prepared for the most disturbing monologue in Austrian literature. Yes, it is a difficult text but the rhythms in the Prince speech reminded me of music. Though the topics of his monologue range from dreams, to madness, to his dissolving family, aphorisms abound and for fans of Nietzsche or Schopenhauer, the darkness and pessimism has a certain comedy to it.

My favourite scenes involved the appointment with the musician, Krainer and his sister. Bernhard's description of the deformed man may remind some readers of the original Nosferatu of early twentieth century German cinema.

One thing I would caution readers is that this book does have a maddening effect on one's consciousness. Any sane individual planning on remaining sane throughout the novel should take sanity breaks and put the book down before delving back into the mired deep.

This book really isn't for everyone.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing 1 April 2011
By Steiner - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gargoyles is a minor work by a great writer-it teems with the kind of obsessive intensity that makes his prose great, yet at the same time it isn't good at all. Thomas Bernhard sets his self-consciously Kafkaesque fantasy with the journeying of a father-physician and his son as they encounter a number of grotesque patients throughout the wooded terrain. The main section (or Gargoyle if you life), involves an extended monologue with a Prince who is losing his dynasty and his mind. The book revolves around these passages, and yet they are infuriatingly repetitive (not in the deepening way Bernhard normally employs). For all its oddities, this novel is a lesser achievement from a remarkable prose stylist.
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