Book Fight!

Tough love for literature

Episode 94: Elfriede Jelinek, Greed

3 Comments

This week’s book was a donor pick, and boy was it a weird one. Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian author sometimes compared to Thomas Bernhard, though Greed strikes us as more difficult (and more stand-offish) than Bernhard’s novels. Jelinek wrote this novel, her tenth, just before winning the Nobel Prize for literature, though the win wasn’t without its controversy; one member of the Nobel committee resigned in protest.

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We try to decide whether the book is intentionally off-putting, or if perhaps there’s something strange about the translation. We also talk about whether the book is difficult in an interesting way, a frustrating way, or both.

Then we move on and delve into some fan fiction, because that’s kind of our thing. This week’s sampling includes a pairing that pretty much no one in the known universe, outside of the author, could have seen coming.

As always, we’re happy to hear what you think about the stuff we talked about this week. You can email us directly, hit us up on Twitter, or just leave a comment here on the site. Also: we’re on Facebook, and gradually getting better about posting studio pics and links and such. So come visit us over there, like our page, etc. etc.

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Author: mikeingram25

writer, editor

3 thoughts on “Episode 94: Elfriede Jelinek, Greed

  1. You know, when I pitched this book to Tom, I did mention, quoting a review, that it was an “unrewarding trek across a depressing landscape,” so you can’t say I didn’t prep you guys for this one. 🙂

    Anyway, I though your review was mostly fair and probably mirrored my initial reaction to the novel, but I kept plowing through based on my goodwill from reading The Piano Teacher, and maybe I am brainwashed or something, but I began to warm to the strange prose style by the end and I enjoyed the book even more on my second and third readings when I didn’t have to worry about tracking the plot and could focus more on the wordplay and the overall themes. That being said, I do agree that the book could likely be condensed and can be a bit static at times. Also, it’s definitely not a beach read (although I would argue that it is not supposed to be) and I agree it is “English-majory” which is probably why it was more well-received by academics than professional reviewers.

    However, I do think you missed a big (maybe the biggest) part of the novel, which is the fact that it was written after the Austrian Freedom Party, led by neo-Nazi Jorg Haider, had been invited into the government in 1999. (This was not a bizarre aberration, but a culmination of a long history of anti-Semitism and a refusal to admit wrongdoing after the war and pay restitution as Germany had to do.) Jelinek is Jewish, which I don’t think was mentioned, so when you guys wondered what she had against Austria, it seemed like kind of a weirdly dismissive statement. (Not to mention it also goes against your critique that the novel is just about “one thing” that it hammers over and over again. There are quite a few themes in the novel besides sexual violence and fascism: environmental destruction, tourism, Austria’s parochialism and xenophobia, historical amnesia, whether literature should be “entertainment,” an interrogation of the traditional tropes of both the rural pastoral and the pulp crime novel, to name a few.) Finally, although a major theme, which you talked about, was the linkage between male sexuality and violence, there is actually only one explicit, “on-screen” murder which probably only takes up about two pages of the book in description. (There are other murders vaguely hinted at, “disappearing hitch-hikers” whom are never followed up upon, who represent the Jews killed during the Holocaust that Austrians want to forget about, but it’s never described in explicit detail or definitively stated in the book that they were murdered by Janisch.)

    Also a couple corrections: Janisch’s son is not a police officer, but a civil servant. Jelinek’s manifesto on psychological realism was about theatre, not the novel. I would say that stance has informed most of her novels, but her most famous work, The Piano Teacher, is pretty much within the bounds of a character-driven, psychologically realistic novel (which is probably why it is her most famous work), so I don’t know that she is as dogmatic as perhaps that quote would make her sound. Finally, I think Jelinek has a sense of humor, in a kind of dry, morbid type of way: she originally subtitled this book as an “entertainment” novel. After reading it, you have to admit that is at least kind of funny.

    Despite my critiques, I enjoyed the episode and I thought the fanfiction stuff was funny, especially the odd author’s note. Thanks for plowing through this one, even though you hated it.

    Michael

  2. Hey Michael,

    Thanks for all the additional info – and you definitely gave fair warning! Unlike some low-rated books we’ve done on the show, I’m glad I read it even though I didn’t like it, because she seems like someone I should know about, and it gave me some things to think about w/r/t the role of the novel, realism, etc.

    And, yes, big oversight on the Jewish heritage! I read it in one of the background pieces on her, and then totally forgot to include it in our discussion.

    Thanks again for your donation and for supporting the show

  3. Pingback: 2015: The Book Fight! Year in Review | Book Fight!

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