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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Night Work

by
Thomas Glavinic


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

To purchase Night Work



Title: Night Work
Author: Thomas Glavinic
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 395 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Night Work - US
Night Work - UK
Night Work - Canada
Night Work - India
. Die Arbeit der Nacht - Deutschland
. Le travail de la nuit - France
Le invenzioni della notte - Italia
Algo más oscuro que la noche - España
  • German title: Die Arbeit der Nacht
  • Translated by John Brownjohn

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Our Assessment:

B+ : one big existential thought-experiment

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 4/10/2006 Martin Lhotzky
The Guardian . 26/7/2008 M.John Harrison
Independent on Sunday . 21/9/2008 Lesley McDowell
NZZ A+ 15/8/2006 Andreas Breitenstein
Scotland On Sunday A 13/7/2008 Stuart Kelly
Die Welt A 26/8/2006 Ulrich Weinzierl
Die Zeit A 28/9/2006 Iris Radisch


  Review Consensus:

  Most very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Etwa nach der Hälfte des Buches ebbt die Spannung ab. (...) Es ist schade, daß sich Glavinic nach verheißungsvollem Beginn im Mittelteil so verzettelt, daß für einen phantasievolleren Abgang kein Platz übrigbleibt. (...) Am Ende bleibt nach dem furiosen Auftakt Enttäuschung." - Martin Lhotzky, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Night Work is an exhausting experience, not just because the events portrayed are harrowing - indeed, at times genuinely horrific - but because of the reader's constant anxiety that Glavinic won't, indeed can't, deliver a solution to his own mystery. Is Jonas's sleeping self a genuinely separate entity? Or is he a hallucination? The measure of Glavinic's skill lies in how long he keeps both possibilities open, and how well he manipulates reader anxiety around them." - M.John Harrison, The Guardian

  • "(T)he novel sags in the middle because we know by this point exactly where it's not going to go, what we're not going to get. It's a novel with its own internal logic and its own deliberately flat, indistinct prose." - Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

  • "Was als planes Spiel beginnt, wächst sich aus ins Vieldimensionale und mündet ins bodenlos Existenzielle. Die Arbeit der Nacht ist ein Roman, der in seinem Geheimnis bleiben wird. (...) Virtuos spielt Thomas Glavinic auf der Klaviatur der Angst. Das Grauen lauert überall, immer irrealer werden die Zwischenfälle in ihrer zunehmend realen Fassbarkeit. (...) Keinen Moment lässt einen dieses Buch aus den Klauen. Dabei erweist sich Thomas Glavinic nicht nur als subtiler Choreograph der Wiederholung, sondern auch als meisterlicher Psychologe." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Night Work is quite self-consciously philosophical. (...) It's far too simplistic to think of writers as privileged conduits to the national id – as if any such thing could exist (although I note in passing that Jelinek has been criticised for her "hysterical portraits of Austrian perversity"). Rather, there's a wakefulness to the zeitgeist in the greatest of authors, and on the evidence of Night Work, Glavinic is a truly great author, not just a truly great Austrian author. At least, that's what I was thinking in the watches of the night." - Stuart Kelly, Scotland On Sunday

  • "Es ist mehr als ein Roman: ein Kunststück im artistischen Sinne. Der Romancier hat eine lange Strecke auf dem Seil balancierend zu bewältigen, über einem Abgrund, der Langeweile genannt wird. Wahrlich nicht leicht bei einem so radikal reduzierten Personal. (...) Diskret hat Glavinic in seinen Text viele ähnliche Signale eingebaut. Sie summieren sich im Bewusstsein zu leisem Schrecken. Erzähler erzählen Geschichten, Erzähler von Rang wie Thomas Glavinic erschaffen Welten, in denen wir uns verlieren. Und ausnahmsweise ist das Unbehagen während der Lektüre ein Qualitätsmerkmal." - Ulrich Weinzierl, Die Welt

  • "Diese Modern-Style-Gelassenheit macht die Sache nicht besser, das Buch allerdings durchaus. Der Widerspruch, der sich zwischen der metaphysischen Tragödie von alttestamentarischer Wucht und ihrer nüchternen, überwiegend technischen Erkundung durch den Helden auftut, muss dem Roman als Spannung und wachsende Irritation gutgeschrieben werden." - Iris Radisch, Die Zeit

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 Arbeit der Nacht is a novel-as-(existential)-thought-experiment. The premise is simple: Jonas wakes up on a fourth of July thinking it's a day like any other in Vienna, Austria, but he slowly comes to realise that he is the only living being left if not on earth at least certainly in the local vicinity (and, eventually, all indications are that he is indeed the last man on earth). The TV doesn't get any reception, he can't connect to any Internet websites, no one picks up when he tries to telephone. Worse: there's no one anywhere. Not on the streets, not in their homes. Everyone else has simply vanished.
       It's pretty spooky and it's pretty devastating. It's also pretty inexplicable, and while there's some appeal to Jonas' looking for an explanation it is ultimately the novel's greatest weakness that there can't be any: this premise does not really (or even unreally) make sense. Glavinic also ups the ante by leaving almost everything else functioning -- specifically much of the infrastructure (electricity, the telephone system -- though, oddly, not the Internet), which would in fact collapse in short order without human supervision -- which shifts the novel from daring science fiction to outright abstract thought-experiment.
       It doesn't take too long for it to dawn on Jonas what has happened, but he understandably spends a great deal of time in a desperate search for any traces of life. But everywhere he goes and looks the scene is the same. He leaves his mark (and telephone number) -- even on a huge banner -- hoping to get someone to contact him. He travels far and wide -- across much of Europe, eventually. And he sets up video-cameras in public places, hoping to capture a glimpse of some other life.
       Eventually, Jonas' search also turns more introspective. He turns the video camera on his sleeping self, for example (with some surprising results). He also turns to his past, revisiting his childhood, both in travels and in dredging up old memories and physical pieces of his past.
       He goes on looking for others, but has to acknowledge:

     Die Frage, ob es außer ihm noch Menschen gab, in Süd-Amerika oder in Polen, in Grönland, oder in der Antarktis, hatten den gleichen Charakter wie früher die Frage, ob Außerirdische existierten.

     (The question of whether aside from him there were still any people, in South America or Poland, in Greenland, or in the Antarctic, was now like the question of whether extraterrestrial beings existed.)
       Ultimately, Jonas comes to recognise the need for the human connexion, that only the continued existence of others gives meaning to any life, that without anyone who remembers -- or a tradition of memory that can encompass even the seemingly anonymous or forgotten -- the individual is lost. Glavinic presents this lesson (or theory) fairly well -- but it is also a fairly long road to travel to reach it (the book is nearly four hundred pages long).
       Jonas' path is of some interest: how he deals with the situation, how he goes about trying to determine whether there's anyone else out there, the psychological effects his situation has on him, even how he deals with a bad tooth (since he can't turn to a dentist). His reckoning with his past is also quite well done -- but there's a limit to how far this one-man story can go, and it's hard for Glavinic to sustain interest consistently across all these pages.
       A good read -- and an interesting idea --, but Die Arbeit der Nacht nevertheless sometimes feels more successful in outline than in fact.

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Links:

Night Work: Reviews: Other books by Thomas Glavinic under review: Thomas Glavinic: Other books of interest under review:
  • See the index of German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Thomas Glavinic was born in 1972.

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© 2006-2012 the complete review

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