Extinction: A Novel (Vintage International)
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The last work of fiction by one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists, Extinction is widely considered Thomas Bernhard’s magnum opus.
Franz-Josef Murau—the intellectual black sheep of a powerful Austrian land-owning family—lives in Rome in self-imposed exile, surrounded by a coterie of artistic and intellectual friends. On returning from his sister’s wedding on the family estate of Wolfsegg, having resolved never to go home again, Murau receives a telegram informing him of the death of his parents and brother in a car crash. Not only must he now go back, he must do so as the master of Wolfsegg. And he must decide its fate. Written in the seamless, mesmerizing style for which Bernhard was
famous, Extinction is the ultimate proof of his extraordinary literary genius.
Basically I dreaded this funeral more than any other. All the local funerals I had attended in recent years were as nothing compared with this, and I suddenly realized what was in store for me on Saturday, the day of the funeral. How right I had been to tell Zacchi on the telephone that I had been overwhelmed by a calamity! My sisters meanwhile turned to my brother-in-law and instructed him to go across to the Farm to see whether there were not two more funeral sheets in the attic, as Caecilia
coffin and spent a long time walking up and down outside the Orangery, obsessed by the thought, while my sisters remained inside. I had to stop thinking about it and tried to distract my mind by beckoning one of the gardeners over and asking him whether the blocks of ice under the bodies would last till the following morning. (The funeral was scheduled for ten o’clock; funerals usually took place at eleven o’clock, but when a member of our family died the funeral was always scheduled for ten.)
expected to surrender virtually my whole being in order to run Wolfsegg for them. It was out of the question. Gambetti, Zacchi, Maria, even Spadolini, and all the others, I thought—there’s no way I’m going to give up that atmosphere for an inherited nightmare. But all the time there’s a gleeful look in their faces, in my sisters’ faces, I thought, because I’ve now been hit by something they never dreamed of for a moment, by the ultimate absurdity: I am to become a farmer, to run Wolfsegg, to have
was calmness itself, as they say. It struck me that he had suddenly become old, weak and quite apathetic. But I cannot say that I felt sorry for him. In childhood I had what seems to me a normal, though not especially good, relationship with my sisters, but when we grew up it was always a bad relationship, and now, with my parents and Johannes dead, I was afraid of having to face them. They’ll cause me the greatest difficulties, I thought. I won’t be able to endure their mocking and by now
both superb principals on this particular stage. And your mother directs the show, at any rate at Wolfsegg. My sisters, it occurs to me, have a habit of hopping, a hysterical condition acquired in early childhood, which became one of their most striking characteristics. They hop all day long—they don’t walk. They hop from the kitchen into the hall and back, into the drawing room and back. They really don’t walk—they hop. I always see them hopping, like the children they were thirty years ago.