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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Die Murau Identität

by
Alexander Schimmelbusch


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Die Murau Identitä



Title: Die Murau Identität
Author: Alexander Schimmelbusch
Genre: Novel
Written: 2014
Length: 206 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Die Murau Identität - Deutschland
  • Die Murau Identität has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : amusing premise, reasonably entertaining take

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Der Spiegel A 23/1/2014 Thomas Andre


  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Murau Identität ist ein parodistisches Glanzstück, eine gelungene Dekonstruktion des Bernhard-Mythos, der mit den Mitteln der Satire neu zusammengesetzt wird - und ein Spiel mit den Gesetzen des Nachruhms, das Schimmelbusch kurios in Szene setzt." - Thomas Andre, Der Spiegel

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Die Murau Identität is narrated by 'Alexander Schimmelbusch', but it's fiction and comes with the obligatory disclaimer that all the people and events in the novel are invented or have been satirically repurposed. Certainly, the character of greatest interest isn't presented true-to-life -- or rather: true-to-death, as the premise of Die Murau Identität is that Thomas Bernhard did not die 12 February 1989, but rather: "actually faked his death and is living on Mallorca".
       The novel opens with the narrator receiving an envelope from a Frankfurt lawyer, with extensive writings from Thomas Bernhard's publisher (unnamed, but obviously Suhrkamp-man Siegfried Unseld) describing his continued encounters with Bernhard after the latter's faked death. Not only that, but Schimmelbusch realizes he's actually met Bernhard's son, Esteban, in New York -- introduced to him by Julian Schnabel ('El Schnabuloso') after Schimmelbusch interviewed him (when they went to Schnabel's local hangout, "einem berüchtigten Szeneösterreicher" -- unnamed but not just in its Washington Street location clearly identifiable as the restaurant Wallsé; for all the fakery in the novel, a lot of the details are entirely authentic).
       Schimmelbusch doesn't read/present the entire contents of the envelope at once, dosing them out across the novel so that Bernhard's not-quite-posthumous activity is only slowly revealed. Meanwhile, Schimmelbusch rushes first to New York and then to Mallorca, on the trail of the the legendary author and in pursuit of what would be one hell of a story for him.
       The way Schimmelbusch recounts his odyssey leans strongly on Bernhard's example, as he shares his thoughts and experiences en route; much of the Bernhard-material is left up to second-hand presentation, as Unseld's accounts are interspersed in Schimmelbusch's narrative. This is where most of the alternate history can be found, though there are a few other bits, such as a new translation of Bernhard's Auslöschung superseding Extinction -- Michael Chabon's Eradication.
       Schimmelbusch isn't the only one on the trail, but with his ex-wife on his mind and his bank account perilously empty he doesn't maintain absolute focus. One of the women he encounters has him pegged quickly:

you look like a writer, sagte sie, your demeanor, the way you’re drinking, that sort of unhealthy sheen, the suppressed panic, the constant digressions, the slight depression I can sense, oh yeah: and that dehumanizing gaze you’re giving me.
       Schimmelbusch does find out more about Bernhard -- largely via the documents he's been fed (where there's some fun stuff about Bernhard's infamous -- and soon ignored -- testamentary insistence that his work not be sold or produced in Austria after his death) and then also in person. Bernhard is working on a book -- Ànima Negra (yes, named after the wine/ry), with Unseld reporting: "What is Bernhard going to write about ? About Tomás, obviously, aka Murau, the lover, the fish cook, the father, the undead temple-dweller".
       Amusingly, in the novel Bernhard is now represented by 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie (who has feasted on representing dead authors' estates), and Wylie plays a fairly prominent role in this story; indeed, Wylie gets the last word. He does not come off particularly well -- representing Vladimir Putin here, too, with Bernhard reporting that Putin complained:
Wylie habe keine Persönlichkeit, ein inneres Vakuum, sage dieser immer, sagte Bernhard, im Gespräch nehme er wie eine leere Hülle das Wesen seines Gegenübers

[Wylie has no personality, an inner vacuum, he always said, says Bernhard, in conversation he's like an empty shell taking on the being of his opposite]
       Wylie also then is inspired to take Bernhard's concept of eradication one step further, while Bernhard expresses disappointment over the book he's been working on for so long -- a product that will be unleashed upon the market (published simultaneously in fifty languages ...) but from which he has already distanced himself. Wylie does get the last word; meanwhile, Bernhard is left suggesting that ultimately: "Die Literatur habe sich als nicht lebensfähig erwiesen." ('Literature proved not to be viable').
       Die Murau Identität is rather fun as insider literary satire. Schimmelbusch's eye for authentic detail impresses, and cameos such as Salman Rushdie complaining about Handke's support for the Serbians in the mid-1990s are nice touches. Unseld's reminiscences sound convincing, too -- but less compelling, unfortunately, are the narrator's own (mis)adventures. Meant to digest everything in Bernhardian fashion -- and thus also not to make too much about meeting the master himself, for example -- the tone is reasonably convincing, yet the effect nowhere near as effective as in Bernhard's own work.
       Amusing enough for those who follow the (mainly German-language) literary scene, it's unclear whether this book could find an audience much beyond that. Bernhard aficionados, Suhrkamp-devotees, and Wylie detractors should, however, certainly find enough here to satisfy them.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 January 2014

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Links:

Die Murau Identität: Reviews: Thomas Bernhard: Other books by Thomas Bernhard under review: Books about Thomas Bernhard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Alexander Schimmelbusch was born in 1975.

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© 2014 the complete review

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