‘Walking’ by Thomas Bernhard – Walking and Talking and Thinking


‘Walking’ by Thomas Bernhard (1971) – 86 pages              Translated from the German by Kenneth J. Northcott

Yes, ‘Walking’ is a novel about walking. Our narrator used to go out walking with his friend Karrer on Mondays and walking with his friend Oehler on Wednesdays. However now that Karrer went mad and is confined in the Steinhof asylum, our narrator goes out walking with Oehler on both Mondays and Wednesdays.

Oehler is the ultimate depressive and a depressing companion.

The whole process of life is a process of deterioration in which everything – and this is the most cruel law – continually gets worse, says Oehler.”

Not only is Oehler forever gloomy, but also he has some quite obnoxious opinions and attitudes.

Anyone who makes a child, says Oehler, deserves to be punished with the most extreme possible punishment and not to be subsidized.”

The centerpiece of ‘Walking’ is when Oehler relates the incident where Oehler and Karrer are out walking together and go to the Rustenschacher’s store. Karrer has his ”terrible collapse” at the store.

While in the store, Karrer complains about the shoddy merchandise calling some pairs of trousers on display “Czechoslovakian rejects”. Of course the sales clerk who happens to be the store owner’s nephew defends their merchandise, and they get into a loud argument.

This scene at the store is so outrageous it is almost comic as Oehler relates it, if it wasn’t for the fact that this is when Karrer gets carted off to the psychiatric ward. This is a frequent technique of Bernhard’s, to make a scene so outrageous and gruesome, it becomes almost comic to picture these people doing these things.

So now our narrator is stuck walking with the depressing Oehler twice a week who keeps saying these grim things.

All people fill their heads without thinking and without concern for others and they empty them where they like, says Oehler. It is this idea that I find the cruelest of all ideas.”

Not much else happens in this novella.

I have read a lot of Bernhard, and I find in much of his work, gloomy as it may be, that there is ultimately a sense of redemption. In fact he has over time become one of my favorite authors. Novels of his that I especially like are ‘Extinction’, ‘Woodcutters’, ‘The Loser’, and ‘Wittgenstein’s Nephew’.

However I did not get much of this sense of redemption in ‘Walking’ which is an early work of Bernhard.


Grade:    B


3 responses to this post.

  1. I’ve yet to try Bernhard but do have a couple of his novels – Extinction and The Loser I think – I’ve never been quite sure where to start.

    Liked by 1 person


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