The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick was Handke’s first commercially successful novel. His earlier two narratives, Die Hornissen (1966; the hornets) and Der Hausierer (1967; the peddler) were experimental texts and rather inaccessible to the general public. This third work evidences, in the character of Joseph Bloch, a concern with issues of language and perception. These ideas are prominent in Handke’s early writings—the plays Publikumsbeschimpfung (1966; Offending the Audience, 1969) and Kaspar (1968; English translation, 1969), for example. Handke clearly proves here that he is a major postmodernist author, whose writing seeks to illuminate the ways in which meaning is constructed.
The autobiographical and existential themes which predominate in the author’s later texts are also apparent in The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick but are not as pronounced. Because of its concern with seemingly abstract issues of language theory and psychology, the novel drew criticism from those who, during the 1960’s, demanded that all literature be socially concrete and politically relevant.
The personal themes of isolation and alienation and the notion of art as transcendence in this novel clearly place Handke in the tradition of modern existential fiction. He stands in the company of writers such as Franz Kafka, Thomas Bernhard, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus.