49 Great Ones and a Stinker

Not too long ago, I noted that the Sueddeutsche Zeitung was publishing a set of 50 great novels of the twentieth century. I got into the game a little bit late, but since then I have been more-or-less keeping up with their pace of one a week, largely by the not terribly edifying expedient of sticking to the shorter ones. It’s been a delight.

Despite their no doubt monumental efforts, the Sueddeutsche editors let a stinker through. Lucky number 13 on the list, Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Keeper’s Fear of the Penalty). The novel purports to show a man’s disintegration, before and after he commits a senseless crime. Trouble is, the crime really is senseless, making it beyond the author’s capability of approaching with his art. The book turns on the sentence, “Suddenly he strangled her.” Snoopy could write as well.

As the jacket copy says, the narrator wanders aimlessly through Vienna and everything irritates him. Most everything about the book irritates the reader as the story wanders aimlessly through the pages. Most irritating were the typographic tricks toward the end that were supposed to simulate the narrator’s almost completed disintegration. Maybe this sort of thing was daring or something similar when the book was published in 1970, but now it just looks silly.

There are 49 other books in the series, no need to bother with this one.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Culture by Doug Merrill. Bookmark the permalink.

About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

7 thoughts on “49 Great Ones and a Stinker

  1. after admitting that I never read the book, the title however is a classic.

    And yes, it was very popular and Handke is one of the most prolific german language writer there is. He also wrote the script for the marvelous first Tom Ripley with Dennis Hoper.

    Don’t give up on him, yet….

  2. About 8 or 9 years ago I saw Wim Wenders’ movie based on the book. Like most others I came out of the cinema thinking, WTF was that all about? Nothing happens!
    Then over the next few weeks it started growing on me – Goalkeeper’s Fear was probably the first movie I ever saw that didn’t care about action, plot lines, character development and just sort of did its own thing. I got so into it that it topped my personal favourites list until Kusturica came along with Underground. It was also cool in a way,
    being able to say “my favourite movie is The Goalkeepers Fear of the Penalty” because nobody else had heard of it and that would make me feel all superior.
    Anyway, about a year ago I stumbled across the book and, never having read any Handke, decided to fill this gap in my education… well I needn’t have bothered, it was one of the most boring reads ever. I have no problem with existentialist, nothing-means-anything type literature, but at least it should be interesting enough to keep me from dozing off. Camus can do that. Goalkeeper’s Fear can’t. It sucks.

  3. PeWi, I agree the title is great. That’s one of the things that enticed me to read it. And the last scene is also surprisingly good. So I’m not writing off Handke, and would be happy to hear which of his books are particularly worthwhile.

  4. Every Austrian high-schooler is force-fed Handke’s ‘Wunschloses Ungl?ck’ (1972, smth like ‘Wishless Sorrow’, he is good at titles, although this one was translated as ‘A Sorrow Beyond Dreams’). It is a touching account of his mother’s depressing life in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia.
    As a teenager I was naturally impressed by the avantgardist angry-young-man-play ‘Publikumsbeschimpfung’ (1966, smth like ‘Insult of the audience’) – funny.
    Handke later transformed himself from a young avantgardist (the goalkeeper is also from that period) into a lyrical narrator writing lucid, evocative meditations in prose. I liked ‘Nachmittag eines Schriftstellers’ (1987, ‘A writer’s afternoon’) and ‘Versuch ?ber den gegl?ckten Tag’ (1991, ‘Attempt on the accomplished day’). Handke lost me with ‘Mein Jahr in der Niemandsbucht’ (1994, ‘My year in Nomansbay’), in which he attempted an opus magnum that would fill many hundred pages. The book became long, but it did not work.

  5. As an all-American capitalist, my favorite book of Handke’s is his play [entitled in English], “They Are Dying Out”. It’s about a group of industrial capitalists who decide to fix prices, – and the single one of them who decides to betray the others by lowering his prices… not for profit, but just to experience the experience of betrayal.

    I especially liked the minor, subsidiary character he developed: a minor stockholder of modest income whom all the main characters loathed because he would buy one single stock in every company in Germany, then bicycle from one stockholders’ meeting to another, just to heckle the board for the hell of it.

    I’m all for shareholder activism. Handke is the first playwright I’ve found who’s actually made interesting use of this socio-economic phenomenon.

  6. Goalkeeper?s Fear was probably the first movie I ever saw that didn?t care about action, plot lines, character development and just sort of did its own thing. I got so into it that it topped my personal favourites list until Kusturica came along with Underground. It was also cool in a way,

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