I read Peter Handke’s The Afternoon of a Writer after watching Tomas Espedal’s hauntingly powerful interview. In the interview Espedal says:
Reading has its own logic. No matter where you start you’ll end up reading Thomas Mann sooner or later. You’ll end up reading Marguerite Duras – and you’ll end up reading Peter Handke. If you read a lot … if you spend your whole life reading, you’ll arrive at those writers.
This particular Handke is the last I’ve read of three that I bought a few years ago on the strength of Steve Mitchelmore’s review. The Afternoon of a Writer is a boundless exploration, somewhat like Rilke’s Malte on a writer’s contradictory needs for both solitude and a social existence.
The narrator, also like Malte, is one of those autobiographical scapegoats into which a writer pours their mental and emotional torments. Unlike Rilke’s incoherent prose though, Handke’s language is natural, minutely observed lights and shades, even during a momentarily grotesque dream sequence, an incredible passage that forces the reader to question the reliability of the narrator.
Although I’ve only read the three Handke books, I am drawn to his interior canvas and his haunted seriousness. As The Afternoon of a Writer draws to its end, the nameless narrator’s loneliness reaches a point that one cannot imagine it being broken.
Phil from The Last Books kindly sent me To Duration, a long Peter Handke poem that I am looking forward to reading next. It is translated by Scott Abbott, a writer whose collaboration with Zarko Radakovic has lead to two books I plan to read, Vampires and A Reasonable Dictionary and Repetitions. The latter follows a character in Peter Handke’s Repetition into what is now Slovenia.
I always go back to Handke and Mann so this sounds pretty great to me.
Thanks for this, Anthony. I enjoyed the interview very much. The book on which I’m working at the moment owes a lot to Thomas Mann. Will I read Handke and Marguerite Duras? At some time… Maybe your post and this Espedal interview will be the stimulus for that. Will I read Espedal? Maybe, too. Right now, I’m reading a lot of Patrick Modiano and then who knows? Best wishes.
I’m considering my next Mann at the moment, probably Buddenbrooks to which Espedal refers in that interview.
i should have a stern word with you calling rilke’s prose incoherent, but it doesn’t matter. all the reading is good, wherever you get your ‘minutely observed ligths and shadows’ from…
i read espedal about two years ago and enjoyed it a fair bit as well.
you’ll do yourself a big favour in also reading scott’s bikebook, it’s truly wonderful:
I love Rilke’s Malte, and attempting to understand what he is trying to say might be difficult occasionally but I enjoy every moment. Incoherency doesn’t diminish in any way the brilliance of his prose.
I spotted the bikes book, but hadn’t seen your post on it. With your recommendation I shall definitely give it a go.
I believe that if one is a curious and idiosyncratic reader, reading is a journey not a destination. You hit upon one writer and paths open up leading forward and backwards from that writer to others (to the influenced and the influences. No writer, or reader for that matter, stands in isolation. I find myself staring at Handke, for example, and several paths have converged over the course of the past year to lead me here. I suspect there are too many significant writers to guarantee that Mann or Duras or Handke are guaranteed to arise on every reader’s path. But there will be others. That is the true joy of reading.
We might disagree on just how many writers there are of the significance of Mann, Duras or Handke, but I took Espedal’s comment to be one of infinite monkeys and infinite time. Read long and hard enough and too many reading paths will lead to Mann and Duras for sure, Handke maybe.
Hi Anthony. That Handke essay/review is in my forthcoming book, so please redirect the link* to an online bookstore of your choice 🙂
Hi Steve. I’m looking forward to your book. When I first discovered your blog, I printed off many of your posts so I could read offline, so this is a major upgrade to those old battered, annotated print outs.