Saturday, November 26, 2011

Short Letter , Long Farewell - Peter Handke

This is my first book of Austrian Writer Peter Handke. I would have preferred to read his more celebrated works like "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick" or "The Left-Handed Woman". He is a prolific writer, albeit his recent controversies regarding the Slobodan Milosevic issue. He had published large number of books ( almost 2 per year for the last 30 odd years) and was considered by many as one of the potential candidate for Nobel. Short Letter, Long Farewell is more read like a travelogue than a full fledged fiction. There are no clear plot and is have left more unanswered questions. It is a plight of an abandoned husband in search of his destiny triggered by a letter from his estranged wife. Upon receipt of a letter from his separated wife from the US, a young Austrian come over to the land of dreams, land of abandonment and a land of escape, the United States. Following the clues from the letter and later from the hints and chances, he follow her track through the width and breadth of US. From NY to Philadelphia to Chicago to LA. Little did he realised that the table is turning reverse. It was evident that his wife is now chasing him and following him through his journey. Soon the hunter became hunted with she drop evidence of her being at the place of his current stay. At one instance, she even put some goons on him and rob him off his cache and other belongings. The showdown was inevitable, as they cross the country in trail until the place of encounter.

What is left unsaid, is more than the spoken words in this book. The style and prose is crisp and controlled. However, it does not go beyond the beautifully crafted words. The entire story is not convincing, neither it gives anything to ponder. While it might track an individuals isolation and his quest for the 'unknown', it fails to create an 'escape' theory. Wait, may be that is what is the intention. May be it is planned to be so. To depict the failure of the individual to find peace with himself as he drift from one place to other.

It can be read as an autobiographical story, or a travelogue, or a crime thriller. This is my curtain raiser to the world of Peter Handke's writing. But this book was disappointing.
Short Letter, Long Farewell ( 1972 )

Peter Handke ( Ralph Manheim 1974)

NYRB Classics

167 Pages
Other Reviews : Bookslut



I like this take on SHORT LETTER quite a bit. Not a bad reading at all. The book derives from Handke + austrian poet literary manager Kolleritch + Handke's first wife, the actress Libgart Schwartz's 28 day in 21 cities jaunt as an Austrian cultural package through these Unidos Estados Norte in Spring 1971, and so it has a travelogue quality even though the book is not autobiographical in a travelogue sense, it is entirely an inverted one. If you happned to see the threesome at that time, as did I, as his first American translator [but no longer of the prose as of SHORT LETTER] and Lit Agent for his German publisher Suhrkamp Verlag, you could not but help notice the EMOTIONAL longing of his wife for an utterly disrespectful salamander cold husband who was entirely engrossed in literary conversation with his buddy Kolleritch, who appears as the Austrina culturalist in the book, as Handke does as a "German writer." Thus the emotional longing was translated into the threat that marriage presented to a writer as autistic and as great a genius as Handke, instinctively acted out. The book's title also refers to Raymond Chandler's work, one of Handke's heroes, probably not only at that time, it is cut in the way the nouveau cinema of the time. John Ford, the open spaces play a big role. What got Handke hot I would say was to do these variety of things in one fell swoop: travelogue, inversion thereof, in film form, with a Black Mask [FAREWELL MY LOVELY] plot driving the beast. There are those who regard SHORT LETTER t h e GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. Here a link to no end of Handke material:

Brain Drain said...

Thank you for the intersting information. That explains many things and puts it in a very different perspective.

Great to hear about your association with him. Would you be kind enough to tell us the titles, you have translated ?

And if you recommend some books ( he had written and published a whole lot of them ), what would they be ?

Thakns again for dropping by and enlightening me..



I translated all the plays, collected in COLLECTED PLAYS I {Methuen} until and including Handke's richest facetted wqork the dramatic poem WALK ABOUT THE VILLAGES [Ariadne Press}. Here is the link to Farrar, Straus/ McMillan and what is available from them, they are Handke's chief publisher. However, New Directions did one title. Yale U.P. did the two great plays HOUR WE KNEW NOTHING OF EACH OTHER + ART OF ASKING, and P.A.J. is publishing the great JOURNEY BY DUGOUT: THE PLAY ABOUT THE FILM ABOUT THE WAR, next spring, in the journal itself.
NYRB Books has I think three early titles in print. FSG recently remaindered a new paperback NOONDAY editon of my translation of GOALIE. used book stores and Amazon will bring you the o.u.p. poetry volumes, I did both & early compilatioms by Avon and MacMillan called TWO & THREE BY HANDKE. xx michael r.