Dale Peck reviews Thomas Bernhard's My Prizes, in the NYT:
For the sympathetic Anglophone charged with reviewing newly translated texts by the Austrian playwright and novelist Thomas Bernhard, the task is a paradoxically onerous one. Put aside the near certainty that Bernhard would have disparaged anything you might say about his work — not just disparaged it, but attacked it with an acid-tongued rant that eviscerated your words, your intellect and your pathetic petit-bourgeois existence. You still have to deal with the almost overwhelming ambition, common to Bernhard fans, to correct his woeful stature in the English-speaking world, as well as the equally oppressive realization that opportunities for doing so are fast running out.
The 21 years since Bernhard died after a lifelong battle with tuberculosis have witnessed a slow but steady trickle of translations, including Old Masters, The Loser and Extinction, which, with Woodcutters, form a loose tetralogy (or, in the formulation of the Bernhard scholar Gitta Honegger, a classical trilogy to which Old Masters is appended as satyr play). These four books, along with “Concrete,” “Yes,” “Wittgenstein’s Nephew” and the five-volume memoir “Gathering Evidence” — oh, and the plays, the plays! — together constitute what some people, this writer included, regard as the most significant literary achievement since World War II. Despite this, Bernhard’s international reputation has never solidified in the manner of a W. G. Sebald, Christa Wolf or Peter Handke, let alone the three most recent German-language writers to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, Günter Grass, Elfriede Jelinek and Herta Müller — all of whom, one wants to say with a dash of Bernhardian bile, are vastly inferior talents when compared with the master.
All the more urgent, then, for one of those reputation-making panegyrics akin to that with which D. H. Lawrence resuscitated Herman Melville. But how to write it, when most of what’s left of Bernhard’s oeuvre would appear to be ephemera and juvenilia?