Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Piano Teacher

Elfriede Jelinek, 1983 [Joachim Neugroschel, 1988]
(November 2012)

This is not a beautiful book. This is not even a nice book. This is a nasty, toxic, asphyxiating book. Page after page of bitter poison, acrid contempt, and warped humanity. It is also quite brilliant.

“He compares her upper part with her lower part, which may be a tad too plump, but he basically enjoys that.”

The narrative voice drips with scalpel-sharp sarcasm, relentlessly slicing into the characters’ foibles and pretensions. It’s almost unbearable – a death of a thousand cuts – and at length threatens to have an almost numbing effect, as if your pain receptors are just shutting down under the unending slashes of irony and condescension. You don’t get off that lightly though, not by a long shot, because into all those cuts is poured the acid of characters so corrupted and corruptible as to be truly venomous.

“She holds Klemmer's genital at arm's length while he fumbles about randomly in her vagina.”

Jesus, but this is twisted and vicious. I know I’ve complained about books with damaged, unsympathetic characters before (and working in a music industry of sorts, no less), but A Visit From The Goon Squad is to this as fluffy handcuffs* are to a full on sex dungeon**; vanilla, entry level stuff which shades from fun and diverting into twee and annoying all too rapidly. If you’re going to do it, go the whole hog. Push right through the pain barrier; go in hard and sharp enough to drag your readers with you and just keep on going. Washed-up punks can’t hold a candle to the thwarted dreams of chamber musicians with mommy issues.

*Probably NSFW.
**Definitely NSFW.

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