(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Gregor Keuschnig, a press attache with the Austrian Embassy in Paris, is married and has a four-year-old daughter. One morning, he has a dream in which he murders someone. From that point onward, his inner life is in upheaval, although he pretends to be normal and to go about his everyday business. He is often in an extremely agitated state, and he believes that he has fundamentally changed. Keuschnig realizes that he is divorced from his own “true feelings.” In this alienated condition, he wanders around the streets of Paris. As in Peter Handke’s earlier novel Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (1970; The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, 1972), there is little overt plot. The narrative focuses primarily on Keuschnig’s perceptions of himself and others.

Keuschnig goes to work but leaves soon after arriving. He finds a phone number, written on the sidewalk, which he then calls. A woman answers, and he makes a date to meet her the next evening. He visits an old girlfriend but is constantly plagued by feelings of estrangement. Returning to the office, he has sex with a woman worker whom he hardly knows. He has a strong desire to disrobe in public. Keuschnig’s behavior is the extreme opposite of his actions prior to his dream. He seems to exist in an almost schizophrenic, disoriented state. Random objects that he sees on the street suggest strong feelings to him. He longs for a new “system” of perception, to be able to...

(The entire section is 551 words.)