A
Literary Saloon
&
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.



Contents:
Main
the Best
the Rest
Review Index
Links

weblog

crQ

RSS

to e-mail us:


support the site



In Association with Amazon.com


In association with Amazon.com - UK


In association with Amazon.ca - Canada


In 
Partnerschaft 
mit 
Amazon.de


En 
partenariat 
avec 
amazon.fr


In association with Amazon.it - Italia

the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

The Great Fall

by
Peter Handke


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

To purchase The Great Fall



Title: The Great Fall
Author: Peter Handke
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 279 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Great Fall - US
The Great Fall - UK
The Great Fall - Canada
La grande chute - France
Der Große Fall - Deutschland
Il grande evento - Italia
La gran caída - España
  • German title: Der Große Fall
  • Translated by Krishna Winston

- Return to top of the page -



Our Assessment:

B+ : Handkian meanderings, in fine form

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 9/4/2011 Daniela Strigl
NZZ . 12/4/2011 Andreas Breitenstein
Süddeutsche Zeitung . 28/3/2011 Christopher Schmidt
Le Temps . 1/8/2014 Isabelle Rüf
Die Welt . 12/3/2011 Ulrich Weinzierl
Die Zeit . 7/4/2011 Thomas E. Schmidt


  Review Consensus:

  Impressed; a return to form

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Der Große Fall nimmt Handke die Marginalisierung nutzloser Menschen aufs Korn, er pflegt aber auch seine Idiosynkrasien. In all ihrer Weltwut und Zärtlichkeit ist die Erzählung ebenso gegenwärtig wie märchenhaft surreal, eine apokalyptische Zauberposse mit selbstironischer und satirischer Spitze, die sich vornehmlich gegen den ungenannt bleibenden kleinen großen Präsidenten der Franzosen richtet, den Freizeitläufer und Tatmenschen (wie Faust, den Handke und sein Schauspieler verachten). (...) So schön und verblüffend die Umspringbilder und short cuts en detail wirken (auch Handkes Sätze sind häufig kurz angebunden), so hat das atemlos additive Verfahren des Aventuiren-Berichts doch seine Tücken. Der unaufhörliche Kulissenzauber strapaziert die Geduld des Lesers, der im Distanzlauf leicht auf der Strecke bleibt." - Daniela Strigl, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "(E)ine komplexe literarische Versuchsanordnung leuchtet hier auf. Dem Autor gelingt es, einen vielstimmigen Echoraum aufzuspannen, der durch sublime Querverweise auf eigene und fremde Werke vervielfacht wird. Man muss sich durch dieses Buch mit Lust und Leid durcharbeiten, dann wird man reich belohnt. (...) Was immer dieses Buch an hellsichtigem Geheimnis birgt -- es markiert eine Abkehr Peter Handkes vom Pathos der Abwesenheit und die Rückwendung zu einer Gesellschaft, der jede Mitte und jedes Mass abhandengekommen sind. Der Grosse Fall leistet eine dichte Beschreibung der geistigen und seelischen Verwahrlosung der Epoche, ohne den Anspruch erheben zu wollen, dem Zerfall etwas entgegensetzen zu können." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Peter Handke schickt seinen zartkomisch-spinösen Helden auf eine phänomenologische Donquichotterie voller Epiphanien des Zufalls und Aventüren der Innerlichkeit. (...) Je näher der schweifende Rhapsode des selig Nutzlosen und durch seine Profanität Geheiligten der Stadt kommt, desto mehr sieht er sich mit den apokalyptischen Ausläufern einer "Endzeit" konfrontiert, die allein von Feindseligkeit, Gewalt und Entfremdung beherrscht wird, einer Realität, die abwechselnd das Gewaltpotential und das Helfersyndrom in ihm wachruft." - Christopher Schmidt, Süddeutsche Zeitung

  • "La Grande Chute tient du conte, du voyage initiatique, de la Wanderung romantique. (...) Le déroulement de La Grande Chute est porté par le rythme spécifique à Peter Handke, les redoublements de mots qui font litanie, la précision des sons et des couleurs. Le récit tremble de résonances mystérieuses, et prête une aura lumineuse aux événements étranges, parfois burlesques, teintés d’ironie." - Isabelle Rüf, Le Temps

  • "Hier treibt ein Sprachkünstler sein gewaltiges Werk voran, wobei ihm ziemlich egal ist, ob sein schriftliches Tun als buchstäbliches "work in progress" gelten mag oder nicht. Zuweilen steckt selbst im vermeintlichen Rückschritt ein Satz nach vorn, Satz sowohl im grammatikalischen Sinn als auch in dem eher sportlichen des Springens. (...) Die rund 270 locker gesetzten Seiten sind, nimmt man sie ernst, keine leichte Lektüre, sie verlangen gesteigerte Aufmerksamkeit wie die Teilnahme an einer Rätselrallye. (...) Die Welt, meint Handke frei nach Wittgenstein, ist alles, was der Große Fall ist." - Ulrich Weinzierl, Die Welt

  • "Was Handke liebt, was er mit grimmiger Beharrlichkeit auch hier betreibt, ist die Konfrontation mit dem Profanen. Auch hier blitzt sein Hass auf die ekelhafte Sozialwelt durch, auf hyperaktive Politiker und selbstgerechte Genießer. (...) Handke bleibt ein Antirealist, sofern der Realismus behauptet, dass das Banale alles ist, aber er hat sich nie zum Sprachrohr irgendeiner Offenbarung gemacht. Er bleibt Epiker, ein wütender, erweckender Beschwörer des Unschönen. Transzendenzgefasel gibt es bei ihm nicht. (...) Handkes Großer Fall ist in einer selbstsicheren, stolzen, zuweilen hochfahrenden Prosa geschrieben, die im nächsten Augenblick wieder ganz sanft werden kann, bescheiden, beinahe flüsternd. Prätentiös ist diese Sprache nie. (...) Es ist das Buch eines wirklichen Sprachkönners, ein Spätwerk. Das Metaphysische ist aus dem Erzählen gewichen, Offenbarungen werden nicht mehr in Aussicht gestellt, die Literatur ein Medium von Wahrheit zu nennen wäre schon eine Prahlerei. Wenn du die Kunst hinter dich gelassen hast, was hast du dann ? Das ist Handkes Frage." - Thomas E. Schmidt, 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.

- Return to top of the page -



The complete review's Review:

[Note: this review is based on the original German edition of the novel, and all translations are my own; I have not seen Krishna Winston's English translation.]

       The Great Fall is a day-in-the-life novel. The central figure is an actor, and he has traveled to a foreign capital. There, on the day in question, he is supposed to receive a distinguished honor at a ceremony that evening -- and, on the following day, he is to start filming a new film, his first acting role on either stage or screen in several years; the role is that of someone: "der auszieht zum Amoklaufen" ('sets out to go on a rampage').
       The actor, like almost all of the characters mentioned in the novel, is left unnamed -- though at one point a priest he encounters gives him one: "Christoph -- denn Sie tragen, du trägst das Gewicht der Welt !" ('Christoph -- because you carry, you're carrying the weight of the world !'). Characters are defined by their roles and basic identities: the country's president, policemen, even the woman in whose house the actor is staying, simply referred to as 'the Woman'. What names do find mention are those of actors and directors, specific roles from well-known films -- a point of reference for the actor (and the author).
       Several times, the omniscient narrator does refer to 'my actor' when mentioning the character, even as the narrator does not otherwise make his presence felt in the account, which is focussed entirely on the actor. The few mentions that he is 'my actor' do, however, serve as reminders of the protagonist being a character, invention, and instrument of an author (who does not otherwise point to his role in leading the story and his character). There is also repeated mention of an impending 'great fall' -- whereby in the German 'Fall' can refer to not only a tumble or other kind of descent, but also a case, as in a mystery (the cases of Sherlock Holmes) or also in the Wittgensteinian sense; indeed, there is even an allusion to Wittgenstein's "Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist" ('The world is all that is the case', in the D.F.Pears/B.F.McGuinness translation). Repeatedly, the narrator notes that this day is one leading to the 'great fall' -- without really hinting at how it will manifest itself or the nature of the fall.
       (Amusingly, too -- and one of the novel's peculiar mysteries -- the novel concludes with a dateline, suggesting where and when it was written: "Great Falls, Montana, July-September 2011 -- despite the novel already appearing in the spring of 2011, i.e. before these dates .....)
       The novel begins with the actor waking in the bed of a woman who is devoted to him but whom he is not in love with; he has been in this bed and house before and behaves with comfortable familiarity in his morning routine -- alone, as the woman has already left for work. Here and throughout, the actor is very much on his own. Eventually, he will encounter others, and even interact with some -- helping the priest out in the small church he visits, for example -- but even where there is speech, there is very little dialogue. People talk to him -- the police, when they come across him trespassing on property he's not supposed to be on, for example -- but no one really engages in conversation. There is practically no back and forth -- down to when he calls the woman he is supposed to meet late in the evening, and he doesn't even have to say a word, she immediately announcing she is finished with work and telling him where to meet her. Similarly, the country's president, who is supposed to give the actor the high honor at the award ceremony, is seen on TV screens, making an important announcement to the nation in an insistently repeatedly aired scene which precludes any back-and-forth.
       The Great Fall is very interior, the narrative simply following the actor and his thoughts through the day. Much of the time is spent ambling about, both physically and mentally, as the actor walks from the woman's house into the city, through a forest that borders the megacity (an unlikely topography, but serving the story's purposes). No direct route is possible -- nor, it seems, does the actor have a speicific point in mind as a destination -- and so the actor meanders about. He comes across others, but they're focused on their own paths -- cycling and jogging, for example.
       The actor comes across a variety of features and people on his way to and then in the city, but remains almost always the casual observer; his stop in the church, and then helping the priest out a bit is a rare example of him getting involved. Among the things he realizes is that he's never been able to save anyone -- small animals, yes, but never any person. He is reminded also of the son he has, but with whom he has not been in any contact; among the few actions he takes is to eventually write a letter to him -- even if it is an exercise in futility (he doesn't have his son's address, for one).
       From near the start of the day the actor also considers skipping the award-ceremony in the evening, and then not showing up to start filming the next day. At times, these are just fancies that come to mind -- as his mood does swing quite a bit, from moment to moment -- but at others he seems to mean it more seriously.
       His identity as an actor is significant. The priest pegs him:

Du bist ein Schauspieler. Woran ich das erkannt habe ? An deiner Unauffälligkeit, an deiner ›Unperson‹. Selbst allein auf weiter Flur wärst du zu übersehen.

[You are an actor. How did I recognize that ? By your inconspicuousness, your non-being. Even in a wide open space you can be overlooked.]
       This inconspicuousness allows the actor to move almost unnoticed; certainly, he is not recognized as the star he is. It also permits the character to be the narrator's vessel -- an entity moving through the story, if barely actively affecting anything in it. Remove the actor from this day and almost nothing would have changed for anyone else in the story, or the entire city.
       Neatly, Handke describes the actor's on-stage and on-screen presence as of an entirely different order: there, it is impossible to overlook him, regardless of his role or place. He is, in his (on-stage/screen) role, always a true presence. Significantly, he is also not a mimic -- indeed, he doesn't like mimicry and simple imitation; for him, a role on stage or screen is something he inhabits in a personal way, rather than trying to imitate someone.
       Not much happens in The Great Fall -- though some geo-political events do intrude, suggesting a more momentous moment -- and the novel seems to trot along at an easy, uneventful pace. Indeed, to say it isn't action-packed would be an understatement, at least by most contemporary fiction standards, as practically nothing that would seem to be particularly noteworthy happens. But Handke zeroes in on small details, from the stains on the clothes to his protagonist's shifting thoughts and recollections, creating a sturdy character-study that suggests so much more than just a day in the life -- but without trying too hard for specific significance or message. The story, like life, remains deliberately open-ended, and even a 'great fall' can come almost unnoticed over one. Handke does not offer easy explanations or answers, but he leads his readers down interesting wending paths, suggestive but not simply clear-cut.
       It's a patient kind of fiction that doesn't seem to be to everyone's taste but certainly offers considerable rewards, in both its language and lingering resonance, with a seriousness and welcome kind of depth that not too much other contemporary fiction offers.

- M.A.Orthofer, 21 November 2019

- Return to top of the page -



Links:

The Great Fall: Reviews: Peter Handke: Other books by Peter Handke under review: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -



About the Author:

       Prolific Austrian author Peter Handke was born in 1942. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2019.

- Return to top of the page -


© 2019 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links