Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Review: "Wonderful, Wonderful, Times" by Elfriede Jelinek

While it does have its opponents, I think I can safely say that Wonderful, Wonderful Times by Elfriede Jelinek might be the most unpleasant book I have read. As far as the themes that it presents, the people it characterizes and the places that it goes, it leaves behind a repugnant residue that sticks to you, and not in the good kind of way books like Mysterious Skin or The Dinner do. While I surmise that it was Jelinek’s intention to do so, in order to comment on the post-war sense of violence and unease in Austria, I don’t think that is a valid excuse for writing a book like this. And while the themes it presents are wholly unpleasant no matter how well you can talk around them, that feeling is surpassed by how uncool everything this book presents comes off. The story begins with three youths in the late 1950’s mercilessly beating a middle-aged man. It is violent scene that sets the stage for a book that is relatively plotless. The four youths are twins Rainer, named after the poet and Anna, who is the most oddly violent of the group. They are joined by the older Hans, and Sophie, Rainer’s girlfriend, and the only aspect of his life that isn’t dominated by his misinterpreted sense of nihilism that affects everyone else in his group. These are very shallow people, who judge people by their levels of intelligence, and think nothing of drowning a cat to demonstrate a theory in a Sartre book. It all culminates in a casually violent act just as they realize how wring they are. I can’t fault Jelinek for showing these kinds of people getting their comeuppance, but it is this same kind of phony cool approach to violence and its consequences that make American Psycho such an outdated and archaic book. I’d say skip this one, unless you can handle something that looks so closely at awful things.
Rating: 2/5

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