(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like all of Thomas Bernhard’s mature novels, Concrete is written as one long paragraph representing a continuous interior monologue. In this novel, the monologue is in the form of a manuscript perused by an anonymous narrator, possibly after the death of the manuscript’s author, Rudolph. The unnamed narrator is noticeable only by brief editorial references, such as “writes Rudolph,” or “so Rudolph,” which appear mainly at the beginning and the very end of the novel.

At the outset, Rudolph, who fancies himself a musicologist, once again attempts to start his magnum opus, a study of the composer Felix Mendelssohn, as he has done several times for the past ten years without ever writing a line. Convinced that he has only a few more years to live because he suffers from sarcoidosis, a usually nonfatal lung disease, he is determined to start writing. He attributes his inability to begin to the constant interruptions of his sister, whom he depicts as an anti-intellectual but apparently very successful business woman. Further excuses for his procrastination are the adverse cultural conditions in Austria, his health, and the climate, but the reader senses that the very completion of his project would deprive him of any reason to continue living—the completion of his life’s work would also be the end of his life.

After a long rant about these obstacles that takes up two-thirds of the novel, Rudolph decides to follow his...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Concrete Summary

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Like many of Thomas Bernhard’s novels, Concrete is written in the first person. It is a long, meandering monologue that has no paragraph breaks. The narrator, Rudolph, is an aging and sickly man who lives alone and is preoccupied with writing intellectual, scholarly treatises. He has tried to write essays on various musicians, philosophers, and writers such as Blaise Pascal, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Alban Berg. His great torment is that he can never complete his work. He has been struggling for ten years with an essay on the Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn but cannot put down the first sentence. Instead, he spends his time collecting materials and making notes. He is a gloomy and self-obsessed individual who harbors bad feelings against the society around him.

As the novel begins, he is railing against his sister, who, he claims, torments him and whose presence keeps him from writing. She comes to visit him and teases him about his presumed “work.” At the same time, he is very much dependent on her. When she invites him to visit her in Vienna, he begins a diatribe against the boredom and sameness of the place, Austria’s greatest city. He claims that the people, its culture, and “society” nauseate him. When he was a younger man, he had lived there and studied music. She continually taunts him about his failed writings. He ridicules her involvement in charity work, and he speaks vehemently against the...

(The entire section is 448 words.)