‘Have you ever read any Thomas Bernhard?’ I once asked an Austrian acquaintance as a student in Vienna, eager to read as much ‘native’ literature as possible. ‘Certainly not!’ she replied, shocked by the very suggestion. Needless to say, her outraged reaction piqued my interest and I immediately resolved to read the first Bernhard book I could get my hands on, expecting an Austrian Philip Roth, Henry Miller or even E L James. But, reading Old Masters, I encountered nothing scandalous or controversial, just a long, vitriolic, paragraphless and hilarious rant about modern Austrian society. Bernhard, who died in 1989, was an author who had a lot of nasty things to say about a lot of people, but he reserved his nastiest statements for his country.
The relationship between the author and his country is the focus of ‘Going Up in Flames’, the final tale in this collection of four short stories by Bernhard, translated by James Reidel into English for the first time. The narrator, ‘on the run’ from Austria, writes: ‘Wherever I looked, I