March 14, 2009

Book Review: Night Work by Thomas Glavinic

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , at 10:33 pm by The Word Jar

Night WorkVirginia Woolf may have advocated for a room of one’s own, but what if you had a world of your own instead? Jonas, a thirty-something living in Vienna, inherits just that when he wakes up on July 4 and finds that he may be the last person on Earth. In Night Work by Thomas Glavinic, Jonas is not only the last person left, but also the last living creature. There is no one to be found in Vienna—not a person, not a dog, not a cockroach.

The crux of Night Work doesn’t rest on finding out what happened to everyone else. Night Work is an intense study of how one survives, though certainly not thrives, on one’s own. What happens when you are left to your own devices, your own thoughts—both of your conscious and subconscious mind?

Glavinic deftly and subtly conveys Jonas’s growing paranoia. When Jonas is confronted by such things as his conjured wolf-bear and an intensely creepy character called The Sleeper, his brain realizes he is only paranoid, but it is a constant struggle to keep that paranoia in check. “He must cling at all costs to what existed. To what was definitely verifiable and beyond dispute.” If Jonas can’t do that, there is no way to survive in this new world.

One of the ways Jonas copes with this new world is to examine his life through deeply existential questioning. As he goes through old photographs and visits places from his past, he constantly compares his past self to his current self. There is at once a longing to return to the past, as played out when Jonas recreates his childhood home, and an almost remorseful sense of fulfillment at what he has experienced and accomplished since that past time.

Night Work may leave many readers unsatisfied. Those looking for a resolution to what happened to the world will not find one. It is an existential book following one man into the depths of despair. If readers can keep that in mind, they will find Night Work to be a gratifying, if not deeply disturbing, read.

(Review copy source: Public Library)

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