Thomas Bernhard likes to write out names in full and repeat them, as if he is summoning ghosts. The name of Mendelssohn-Bartholdy runs as a refrain through his novel Concrete. Its narrator, Rudolf, is forever preparing to begin writing his great work on Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, and it is as if the repetition of that sonorous name should work as a magic spell, perhaps of a medical sort, finally opening the floodgates of the mind and allowing the writing to flow. But the spell is impotent, he never begins. His sister repeats the name to taunt him; first she says it with respect but later he hears condescension in her tone.

Just when we think he will forever be stuck in his large, coffin-like mansion, caught in his ruminations, he finds his way out and flees to Palma on the island of Mallorca. On one of his walks there he accidentally addresses the young woman walking in front of him by saying too loudly what turns out to be her name, Anna. Thus he summons her. Her ghostliness is confirmed by her great misfortune, which she proceeds to share with our narrator. A name, used in the third person, mistakingly is heard in the vocative, and instead of keeping its bearer at a distance – the safe literary distance in which Rudolf feels at home – invites her into his life.

© 2009–2024, Martijn Wallage