On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House employs, in essence, two narrators—one telling the story to the reader, and the central character, an alienated pharmacist from the Salzburg suburb of Taxham. The strategy allows Handke to provide himself with ironic distance from the story even as he tells it. For example, the book’s narrator will occasionally interject an explanation from the protagonist, but the mere fact that information is presented to the reader in this form calls attention to the subjectivity of the perspective. Handke thus combines content that often seems absurd or surreal with a narrative form that calls into question the nature of “truth.” The reader is never completely certain whether the events being narrated actually occurred, if they are subjective interpretations of events that another observer might have described differently, if they represent the subconscious of the central character, or if indeed they are altogether hallucinatory.
The tale begins prosaically enough. The pharmacist leads a mundane existence in a nondescript suburban town. He has his distinguishing characteristics—he is an aficionado of mushrooms, for example—but he remains an unremarkable figure. Estranged from his wife, although they continue to share the same house, he leads an alienated but not altogether lonely existence. The first real event of the novel is an apparently random act of violence perpetrated against the pharmacist. He is rendered...
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