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.
In the first of the two relentless paragraphs which make up this claustrophobic masterpiece, the narrator, having just received a telegram informing him of the deaths of his parents and brother in an accident, stands at his window in Rome and attempts to retain his footing amid a great rush of (negative) memories of his estranged wealthy Austrian family and their property at Wolfsegg, and, more particularly, of the things he has told his pupil Gambetti about his estranged family and their property at Wolfsegg before he learned of the deaths. In the second half of the book he tells of his return to Wolfsegg, the preparations for the funeral, his relationship with his sisters, and the funeral itself, attended, as feared, by several ex-Nazis, and by his mother’s nauseatingly brilliant lover, a papal nuncio, who naturally assumes centre stage (in the narrator’s eyes at least). In the same way that the beautiful Children’s Villa at Wolfsegg was repurposed by his parents as a hideaway for Nazis after the war, symbolically robbing the narrator of his childhood, harm cannot be undone merely by its rejection, and the narrator's unremitting diatribes, devastating in their execution yet subtle in their implications, against absolutely everything represented by his family (sometimes with hints of an achingly suppressed ambivalence) and by the indelibly “Catholic and National Socialist” Austrian society, demonstrates that his attempts to free himself from what is despicable have not freed him but maimed him, and that words, whether as thought, speech or literature, are at best a feeble act of avoidance. “When I take Wolfsegg and my family apart, when I dissect, annihilate and extinguish them, I am actually taking myself apart, dissecting, annihilating and extinguishing myself. I have to admit that this idea of self-dissection and self-annihilation appeals to me, I told Gambetti. I’ll spend my life dissecting and extinguishing myself, Gambetti, and if I’m not mistaken I’ll succeed in this self-dissection and self-extinction. I actually do nothing but dissect and extinguish myself.” - Thomas
"Grand, imposing, awe-inspiring."
--"Los Angeles Times"
"Strangely gripping. . . . A highly original kind of writing that resembles musical patterns of theme, variations and recapitulation. . . . A fine and compelling prose accomplishment."
--"The Washington Times"
"With a breathtaking sustained intensity . . . Bernhard assaults through the voice of Murau the modern world, as exemplified by his birthplace, Austria."
"The particular fineness of "Extinction" lies in its depiction of a consciousness in action: Murau, it turns out, can be weak, admirable, reprehensible or mean-spirited, but his mind, as depicted on the page, seems absolutely true to life."
--"Washington Post Book World"
"Not every raving maniac is a genius. Many are called but few are chosen. It's a pretty exclusive club, but Bernhard made it. . . . Like Swift, Bernhard writes like a sacred monster. . . . He is a remarkable literary performer: a man who goes to extremes in ways that vivify our sense of human possibilities, however destructive."
--"The Wall Street Journal"