Thomas Bernhard’s Yes

“This book is here on the table in front of me,” wrote Ágota Kristóf, of Thomas Bernhard’s Yes, It “is the first book of his that I read. I lent it to several friends, telling them that I had never laughed so hard when reading a book . . . It is true that the content is terrible, for this ‘yes’ is indeed a ‘yes’, but a ‘yes’ to death, and thus ‘no’ to life”.

After reading Kristóf’s The Illiterate I turned next to Bernhard’s Yes. How could I not? This is how I like to read, have always read, led from one book to the next by that sometimes barely discernible thread, though more direct in the journey from Kristóf to Bernhard, about who she writes, “[He] will live on eternally as an example to all those who claim to be writers”.

I read Bernhard’s books singly. He is not for me a writer to binge-read, though I expect to read each of his books eventually. So far, none of the eight I’ve read have disappointed. Yes goes straight onto my list of favourite books. It has that immediacy that comes with Bernhard’s novels and the ability to deliver character and voice by the most economical means. The pervading sense of disillusionment is counterbalanced by a stream of not-quite humorous misanthropy, source, I imagine, of Kristóf’s laughter.

A pattern of truly serendipitous reading would next entail Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, but that maddening text and I have crossed paths before so I shall turn instead this evening to Bernhard’s protagonist’s other source of solace: Robert Schumann’s late symphonies.

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