“Very artful, almost loving” – On Josef Winkler’s When the Time Comes (TLS 2014)

“Death Becomes Them”, The Times Literary Supplement (10 January 2014), 21. A review of Josef Winkler, When the Time Comes, trans. A. West (New York 2013). An excerpt from the author’s typescript is copied below:

josef-winkler-j-bauer
Josef Winkler (copyright J. Bauer)

Before he died, W.G. Sebald often praised Josef Winkler’s “monomaniacal oeuvre”; and Winkler has self-diagnosed his idée fixe: we all die. “Death”, as he put it in a recent interview, “is my life’s theme”. And it has procured a living for this Austrian novelist since 1979, when Martin Walser handed one of Winkler’s first manuscripts to the powerful German editor, Siegfried Unseld. A contract was offered within days, and this put larger wheels in turn. Winkler rapidly became a fêted and respected exponent of the post-war “anti-homeland” sensibility in Austrian literature – the so-called Anti-Heimatliteratur – and in 2008 his collected works were crowned with the Büchner Prize. In his linguistic homeland, then, Winkler’s reputation is secure. But abroad, it is still being made, and Adrian West’s skilful translation of When the Time Comes is sure to advance it.

Winkler’s vision is at once far less and far more parochial than his “anti-homeland” credentials could suggest, and this duplicity is already in evidence in the first pages of the novel. He opens with a page-long description of a reeking, ossiferous soup that is called pandapigl in his native Carinthian dialect. This word and quite possibly this substance are foreign in much of his homeland – or such is the conceit – and they both structure the work. Under his narrator’s name, Maximilian, Winkler casts himself as a “bone collector”, while his narrative itself functions as a “bone cooker”. His text is a public burial urn set over the steady heat of personal memory. …

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