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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Victor Halfwit

Thomas Bernhard

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To purchase Victor Halfwit

Title: Victor Halfwit
Author: Thomas Bernhard
Genre: Story
Written: 1966 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 208 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Victor Halfwit - US
Victor Halfwit - UK
Victor Halfwit - Canada
Victor Halfwit - India
Viktor Halbnarr - Deutschland
  • A Winter's Tale
  • German title: Viktor Halbnarr
  • Translated by Martin Chalmers
  • With Illustrations by Sunandini Banerjee

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Our Assessment:

(--) : impressive big edition of a small tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

  • "Viktor Halbnarr ist eine aberwitzige Bernhardiade, eine Variante der Legende vom Heiligen Christopherus aus dem Geist der Vermischten Meldungen, wie sie der ehemalige Gerichtsreporter Bernhard gerne las und oft verarbeitete." - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (20/12/2003)

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.

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The complete review's Review:

       Thomas Bernhard's Victor Halfwit: A Winter's Tale took up a mere seven pages in the anthology where it was originally published, in 1966. The impressive Seagull edition of the English translation, meanwhile, feels close to coffee-table-book in size and weight, and clocks in at some two hundred pages -- a sleight of publishing managed by really stretching out the text -- most two page-spreads have less than two dozen words on them, some only a few words, and some none at all. Indeed, text feels very much only a small part of this book, with the accompanying illustrations by Sunandini Banerjee clearly front and center.
       Banerjee's illustrations consist mainly of relatively simple collages and blown-up details, taken from a wide variety of sources, including old books, paintings, pictures, and photographs, with a wide variety of images (that even include the label on the LP-record of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon). They do complement the text, without generally literally illustrating it, so this isn't your usual children's book (the story is, ostensibly, for kids); it's more illustration-by-association than the usual pictorial representation of text. The illustrations certainly are striking, however -- the large format of the book, and the often limited number of often over-sized images (as well as the very colorful variation) -- see to that.
       Bernhard's story is a simple one: it is narrated by a doctor, hurrying to a patient "on the other side of the high forest" late one winter night, and on his way he stumbles across Victor Halfwit, who has his own reasons for making this unusual crossing from one town to the next. Victor had already lost his legs years earlier, but now had broken down completely, both his wooden legs having given way under him: he's stuck, and if no one helps him out, he's lost. The doctor helps him out -- not only by shouldering him and carrying him to his destination, but by running as fast as he can. Victor Halfwit -- written off as dead (as he certainly would have been had the doctor not come his way) -- emerges triumphant (even if his victory is of the rather hollow sort, at least as the doctor sees it).
       The doctor even then takes him along to see his patient, and then puts him up at the local inn -- though they then agree: "not to concern ourselves any further with each other". For the doctor, Victor Halfwit -- with his unusual name -- and this episode amount to little more than an anecdote -- which is pretty much what the whole story is.
       It's an odd little story, with a somewhat sour taste to it, though the Bernhardian humor make it quirkily entertaining. Bernhard does manage to get in some of his usual digs -- including the complaint by another character:

'Oh well, doctors ! Really, doctors stick their noses into everything !'
       Coupled with the colorful and off-beat illustrations, the story makes for an amusing enough little entertainment. Still, while it's a very good-looking book, this volume, there is rather a lot of (pictorial) padding for such a small tale.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 July 2011

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Victor Halfwit: Reviews: Thomas Bernhard: Other books by Thomas Bernhard under review: Books about Thomas Bernhard under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • German literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Thomas Bernhard lived 1931 to 1989.

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© 2011-2016 the complete review

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