Frost by Thomas Bernhard
Having recently wound up living in a small, strange mountain town—the setting for a number of his works—Berhard’s writing has felt even more potent and visceral as of late. Frost is a bit of slog at times, mostly because it is quite long by Bernhard standards (being his inaugural novel, he has yet to arrive at his economical but devastating prose of the later works), and it doesn’t let up at all throughout. But it’s this massive, unkempt quality that gives the text color, and it also powerfully illustrates one of the core themes (which echoes throughout Berhard’s oeuvre): the unrelenting yet comical absurdity of life.
Which is not to say that there are not pointed passages, as the the novel is full of prose that is knee-bucklingly poetic and profound (I often set the book down to let the full import of a statement or idea sink in, usually after having read through it a couple of times). Full of confounding contradictions, whole passages are lyrical koans. Frost is also quite entertaining. It’s chock full of a supporting cast of eccentric townsfolk, and the interactions between the narrator and the main character–the painter Strauch–can be quite mordantly funny.
However untamed, Frost is unmistakably the work of Bernhard, most notably in the narration. On the surface, this novel is in the hands of an unnamed narrator, but all too often the first person is blurred with quotes and statements of other characters (interpreted by the narrator, mind you). Add to this the alarmingly infectious quality of the painter’s madness, and we are ultimately left with a narrative of odd synthesis. A novel that begins as an examination of one character’s madness, Frost eventually leaves the reader questioning the reliability (and sanity) of the narrator, and, thus, the entire text.