A Feast of Invective

Woodcutters
By Thomas Bernhard
181 pp. Vintage. $16.


Austrians are masters of boiling discontent, of stewing wrath and fomenting fury. No other people compare. For evidence, I give you both the films of that famed Austrian, Michael Haneke, and this deliriously delicious diatribe by Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard.

We have all thought, self-isolating in a corner of a room during a party or other gathering, contemptuous things of those within eyesight. At least on occasion. At these times we’ve bemoaned our attendance among those we so harshly judge, we’ve thought ourselves better than them — whether for reasons of self-preservation and our own insecurity or because we really just are that put-off by others. We normally wouldn’t attend such events knowing in advance that we’d feel this way, at least, not unless we were open with ourselves as to how much pleasure we derive from our own judgments, our own dark inner thoughts.

And there is pleasure, immense pleasure, to derive from Thomas Bernhard’s “Woodcutters” — from the way his protagonist brutally cuts the other guests at the “artistic dinner” he’s attending down to size, even if only in his own mind. He’s a gloriously cynical character, but we love him because his inner monologue is laced with so much dark wit, so much savage eloquence.

You want him at your dinner party, if only because the glowering looks he sends around the room from his corner perch are sure to make the other guests swoon. In the film that unspooled in my mind as I read, he was played by that great Austrian thespian Christoph Waltz, who does oozing contempt like a natural because, being Austrian, he is a natural.

Written in one unbroken paragraph, “Woodcutters” is a smoldering pageturner — tantric in its language, even in translation, and the emotion it invokes in you.

A feast of invective you’ll be glad you supped on.

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