The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard

The rambling, obsessive, internal thoughts of a bitter loser… who’d have thought they’d make such good reading?

The Loser is about three piano virtuosos who meet in their early 20s at a music school. All three have great talent, but one of them is Glenn Gould (a real piano virtuoso–this story mixes some fact in with fiction) and the other two (one of which is the narrator) quickly realize that Glenn is far far above them. There is no way they could ever be as good as Glenn.

So, they quit. They simply give up piano because they can’t be the best.

The story is not told in the way I just told it, however. The entire novel is a single paragraph. One long bitter rant about life, and about the other student who quit, Wertheimer. Wertheimer is “the loser” according to our narrator. But it is plain to see the narrator is quite a loser himself, too, no matter how arduously he justifies his actions, or tries to differentiate them from what Wertheimer did.

Both of these characters chose to do nothing instead of doing something, simply because they couldn’t be the best.

The book is written in such a bitter, hostile voice that you can’t help but laugh. It’s very humorous in a dark way. Most of Bernhard’s books are written in this voice, it seems. But despite all his books being seen as negative and death obsessed, Bernhard thinks of himself as a positive person. He says: “An idealistic literary work can produce disgust in the reader. Whoever sees through the author’s intention and recognizes that in reality things are completely different will fall back into negativity.” Bernhard feels that his ‘negative’ books should produce the opposite reaction, a sort of cathartic or ‘tragic’ laughter. I found that to be true, in this case. The negativity was so much that you had to laugh at it.

This book really struck me, along with other things going on in my life it made me realize that time is short. We really don’t have the luxury to be obsessing over perfection.

Bernhard wrote a lot of books, and I’ve already bought a second one, ‘Frost’–it’s really good in just the first few pages. Looking forward to a possible new favorite author!

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