Like most of Thomas Bernhard’s novels, WOODCUTTERS defies the conventions of traditional fiction. There are no paragraph breaks in Bernhard’s text. From the first sentence to the last, the reader is in the grip of the narrator, who is himself a writer. Very little happens in the course of the novel; when one closes the book, what sticks in the mind is the rhythm of the narrator’s voice, the intensity of his vituperation.

Above all, the narrator hates the false culture, pretentious and self-congratulatory, which in his view dominates contemporary Austria. The novel is set in the early 1980’s at a dinner party in Vienna, where the narrator is among the guests of a well-connected couple, the Auersbergers. It is near midnight; they await the arrival of an actor who has a leading role in a production of Henrik Ibsen’s THE WILD DUCK, premiering that night at the Burgtheater. For the narrator, the occasion triggers memories of the Auersbergers and their circle, whom he met three decades before and from whom he has been estranged for many years. The novel records his reactions to the dinner party and the play of his consciousness, constantly shifting between the present and the past. The voices of others--chiefly that of the actor, who finally arrives--always come to the reader mediated by the narrator.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the narrator’s diatribes are directed at himself as well--that he finds himself wanting when...

(The entire section is 552 words.)