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The Perfect Book for Frosty the Cranky Snowman

The Austrian author's first novel has just been translated into English. Grinches will love it!
The Austrian author's first novel has just been translated into English. Grinches will love it!

For those who are already grumbling about the holidays and want something surly to feed their inner grinch, Frost is for you. The novel stars Strauch, an aged and dying blabber, a painter who has burnt his canvases and is descending into lucid madness in the Alpine hinterlands. The artist's brother, a surgeon, sends a 23-year-old intern to find out what Strauch is up to.

Posing as a law student in order to keep his identity a secret, the narrator is at first puzzled but then mesmerized by the artist's savage fulminations on death, decadence and the sins of man.

Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard (1931-1989) was a connoisseur of spleen, savoring his acid as if it was fine wine. His novels, plays and poetry spit out lyrical yet brutal bursts of venom at a number of targets, most prominently the moral decay of postwar Austria, a prosperous, amnesiac land he views as cheerfully anti-Semitic, thoroughly philistine and determinedly bureaucratic.

Published in Germany in 1963 and now translated into English, Frost was Bernhard's first novel. It provides plenty of gloomy comedy, though Strauch lacks the cranky pizazz of Bernhard's later nihilistic ranters. Still, given Michael Hofmann's agile translation, Frost serves as a fittingly spiky introduction to Bernhard's vision of the modern deep freeze.

Bill Marx, a freelance writer who covers the arts, teaches the art of reviewing at Boston University.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Marx