this living human shaft … this breathing pit


If you have read Elfriede Jelinek’s most famous novel, The Piano Teacher, you’ll know what to expect from Greed. First of all, pathological characters, rendered with glassy fury: traditional Austrian self-hatred, like that of Kraus, Canetti and Bernhard, but – I know it’s hard to imagine – even more hateful. Second, something you don’t find even in them: a great deal of violent, sado-masochistic, four-letter sex. In sum, a horrifying vision of human nature (‘friends, that is, greedy beasts’) and nature itself (‘fundamentally evil’), in which human beings are objects, and objects are human – days stretch their limbs, valleys grin, handkerchiefs ‘are quite stiff from everything they’ve had to swallow in their lives’.

Get the flavour? (Sorry, the rub-it-in style is catching.) Disgusting, despairing, but undeniably intriguing, and not just because of the porn. That last quote is a clue: Jelinek’s pages pullulate with weird but wonderful lines that only she could have written.

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