Elfriede Jelinek

She is not very well known and the critics have problems with her feminism and open sexuality, but then she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Although I’m sure the musicality of her prose is more obvious in the original German, the Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek is a must read author.

You may have seen the movie made from the author’s novel, The Piano Teacher. There were enough disturbing elements in the novel to make the film a bit of a shocker. Right now I am reading Wonderful, Wonderful Times. The blurb on the back cover is as good an introduction to the author’s writing as anything I might write:

It is the late 1950s. A man is out walking in a park in Vienna. He will be beaten up by four teenagers, not for his money or anything he may have done to them, but because the youths are arrogant and very pleased with themselves. This arrogance is their way of reacting to the decaying corpse that is Austria, where everyone has a closet in which to hide their Nazi histories, their sexual perversions, and their hatred of the foreigner.

Not all of Jelinek’s novels have been translated into English (could be a good reason to learn German).

  • bukolit. hörroman 1979
  • wir sind lockvögel baby! 1970
  • Michael. Ein Jugendbuch für die Infantilgesellschaft 1972
  • Die Liebhaberinnen 1975 (Women as Lovers 1994)
  • Die Ausgesperrten 1980 (Wonderful, Wonderful Times 1990)
  • Die Klavierspielerin 1983 (The Piano Teacher 1988)
  • Oh Wildnis, oh Schutz vor ihr 1985
  • Lust 1989 (Lust 1992)
  • Die Kinder der Toten 1995
  • Greed 2000 (Greed 2006)
  • Neid: Privatroman; 2007

Jelinek’s work is multi-faceted and highly controversial and comparable to another excellent Austrian writer, Thomas Bernhard. Her portraits of perversity will either titillate or disgust the reader but the author is firm and direct in her honest portrayal of the moral and social decay that settled into Austia after the war.  Likewise, her political activism is met with divergent and often heated reactions. A prominent topic in Jelinek’s fiction is the abuse of female sexuality. According to Jelinek, power and aggression are often the principal driving forces of relationships. In her later work she has been less concerned with sexuality than with social criticism in general, especially Austria’s acceptance of its Nazi past.

Before receiving the Nobel Prize, Elfreide Jelinek was very much an unfamiliar author outside of Austria and the German speaking world:  that was unfortunate but now we have the opportunity to make up for the oversight.

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