If you come to my house and look at my bookshelves, you can very quickly and easily distinguish the gods from the demigods and lesser beings. The gods simply take up more space, and they do so in the shape of rows of books with their names on them. Thomas Bernhard is a god, and right now he has a 7-book tract of shelf that will surely grow very, very soon.
Prose is his first story collection, originally published in 1967 and, amazingly, not once translated into English until 2010. It was worth the wait. This is Bernhard being Bernhard (as he always was)–the endless paragraphs; the mordant, suicidal, probably insane narrators; the incredible mastery of language. With Bernhard the novels are the big game, but in a way these stories are nicer than the novels because they’re so much more compact, yet still maintain a lot of the flourishes and impact, just without the level of repetition that you tend to get in some of the looser novels.
It’s a shame that Bernhard has taken so long to be discovered in English (he did most of his writing in the ’60 – ’80s and died in 1989); but there is at least one nice thing about it–there are still “new” Bernhard books out there to be discovered (and even the previously translated ones are often out of print and await a publisher to make them new to us again). Prose is one of those “discoveries” and it was certainly one of the best things I read this year.