Read Absence by Peter Handke Ralph Manheim Online


The time is an unspecified modernity, the place possibly Europe. Absence follows four nameless people -- the old man, the woman, the soldier, and the gambler -- as they journey to a desolate wasteland beyond the limits of an unnamed city....

Title : Absence
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780374527631
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 118 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Absence Reviews

  • Pantelis
    2018-12-10 19:10

    Pure Wanderlust... A taciturn epic... Reading it is a pilgrimage in a no man's land like the Zone in Tarkovsky's Stalker. You find out there what you carry inside... I have walked the distance twice. Once in the french translation 20 years ago and three years ago in the original German (one of the reasons I have studied the language). I am sure I will return back there. I feel that book calling me already... Handke has directed a movie based on this book. I hope to watch it someday...

  • Ian
    2018-11-30 13:56

    Peter Handke's 1990 novel Absence is perhaps the most dreamlike of his shorter works, a brazenly experimental fiction in which he seems content to let his characters loose and see where fate takes them. The setting is Europe at some unspecified time, though certainly post-World War Two. The four characters (an old man who scribbles cryptic symbols in a notebook, a very young and mostly silent soldier, a man of middle age who is a gambler, and a young woman who may or may not be emotionally unbalanced) set out from four separate places in an unnamed city and converge on a train compartment. Here they seem to recognize that some inexplicable fellowship exists among them, and when the train stops in the countryside they disembark as a group. Their subsequent wanderings take them through a variety of rural settings. They picnic on the edge of a lake, they endure a heavy storm, they take refuge in a cave. Perhaps the gambler is leading them somewhere. Or maybe it's the old man. Along the way, each delivers one or two lengthy soliloquies touching upon the path he or she has taken through life, and their impressions of themselves and the people and situations they have encountered along the way. Initially, the narrator is merely an observer recording what is happening, but about midway through the book, the narrative perspective shifts into the first person and the narrator begins to speak as if he is one of the group. There is no attempt at explanation, and indeed the essential nature of the story does not change. In the end, the reader feels that these lives have unfolded in the only manner possible. The novel is elegiac rather than dramatic, and a literal description of the action would, to be frank, make little sense. But strangely enough, at the end we relinquish these characters with reluctance, though we have known them for a very short time. As with his earlier fictions, in Absence Handke again pushes against the boundaries of prose narrative, performing a high-wire act with deceptive ease and grace.

  • Don
    2018-11-25 17:49

    This is written in a style similar to a later Terrence Malick movie. I am not sure what is going on with the switches from third to first person (or present to past tense), but it's a beautiful little book.

  • Michael Steger
    2018-11-24 15:09

    Haunting: the mesmerising voice of someone in a depressive state, wandering here and there but not going anywhere...

  • Andrew
    2018-11-14 15:10


  • Jim
    2018-11-18 17:00

    This book reminded me in some ways of Astonishing the Gods by Ben Okri although to be fair it’s been a while since I read it. That book is described as:A young man is transported to an enchanted isle in a quest to discover the secrets of visibility. He finds himself amidst a society of invisible beings who have built a utopia based on a single law, ‘Every experience is repeated or suffered till you experience it properly and fully for the first time.’In the introduction to the new edition Okri has this to say:The philosophical fable, from Rasselas to Candide, reveals how much we dream of quests to unknown places. Astonishing the Gods is of that family. In it everything is allusive, indirect – something I learned from Giorgione. It is written with light but fringed with darkness. You could say much the same about Absence by Peter Handke. It’s different off course and I didn’t start thinking of Okri until I was well into the book but once I did and started to look back on what I’d read previously it all started to make sense. Well, maybe ‘sense’ is too strong a word. I’m not a big fan of magic realism but the technique exists and I do get it. It’s like cartoon physics. If you can cope with Wile E. Coyote standing in mid-air and not falling until he realises there’s nothing supporting him then anything that happens in a magic realist universe should be a piece of cake.At the start of Absence we don’t know where we are. The book opens:Late one Sunday afternoon the statues on the city squares are casting long shadows and the humped asphalt of the deserted suburban streets is giving off a bronze glow. The only sounds from inside the café are the hum of the ventilator and an intermittent clatter. We’re in an unnamed city. Slowly, carefully, the scene is described to us. We’re shown a park in which there stands “a castle-like nineteenth-century building with tall windows surmounted by triangular tympana and just under the eaves some hundred attic windows running all around the building.” We learn it’s a sanatorium for the elderly and the narrator tells us what he sees in certain windows—potted plants, birdcages, televisions, staff ironing and cooking—but our attention is drawn to one room where an old man—“not an inmate of the home; he is the master of this room” —has been writing in “an open notebook, with outsized hard covers, wrapped in cracked, many-times-mended canvas, its paper spotted with mould, as though the whole had a story of its own”:The pages are covered with columns of signs that vaguely suggest hieroglyphics. Beside them, written in a clear, official-looking, yet childlike hand, are words that seem to be attempts (some followed by question marks) to decipher the signs, such as “to bear in mind”; “to master”; “to break camp”; “to set out”; “to sit down?”; “the runnel?”; “the cliff on the border?”; “the watershed?” This is typical of the style of the book. Everything is described in… I can only call it loving detail. Of course the words in the book are, or at least seem, nonsensical and I paid them scant attention. Little did I realise that these outline part of the journey he’s about to undertake. Nor is there any indication he’s not going alone.The narrator’s attention shifts to another open window but not in the old people’s home. In this one the “walls of the room are covered with photographs of all sizes, some in frames—not mere metal strips, but carved mahogany.” They are all pictures of the woman we meet in the room, photos of her at different times in her life. She’s also been writing but her handwriting is barely legible. Luckily for us she delivers—to herself presumably—a monologue, the contents of the sheets she’s been working on and although she makes a little more sense than what the old man it’s still confusing but it’s also compelling. She begins:He said I was always demanding love, though I myself was totally incapable of giving love. He said that I’ve never been anyone’s wife and never will be. He said I was restlessness personified and whoever I was with I’d never give him anything but trouble. Sooner or later I’d inspire the gentlest person in the world with a destructive urge, in the form either of homicidal frenzy or of a death wish, and convince him that this trait was his true character. For several pages she details what this “he” said about her. She then gets her handbag and prepares to leave.The third character is a young soldier, the fourth a gambler. No one is ever named and they seem unrelated but soon enough all four find themselves in the same train compartment—when trains had that kind of compartment—but it’s still not clear that they’re connected or there with a common goal. The gambler is the last to arrive:The door is thrown open for him even before he gets there, and closes after him like that of a funicular cabin once it is loaded to capacity. Yet a number of seats are still vacant after he has sat down. There are only three other persons, who, though thrown together at random, seem to acquiesce in the arrangement. With the gambler the group is complete.They don’t talk. By that I mean they don’t introduce themselves or pass the time of day. Eventually the woman delivers another monologue talking about how as a child she had ended up being institutionalised. She reveals that one of the group was there at the time, a visiting student, but she never says who although logic dictates it must be the old man or the gambler as the soldier is too young. No one acknowledges or comments on what she has to say and they travel on in silence until the old man sees fit to deliver his own monologue during which something resembling an explanation for their journey is given:I believe in places, not the big ones but the small, unknown ones, in other countries as well as our own. I believe in those places without fame or name, best characterized perhaps by the fact that nothing is there, while all around there is something. I believe in the power of those places because nothing happens there anymore and nothing has happened there yet. I believe in the oases of emptiness, not removed from fullness, but in the midst of it. I am certain that those places, even if not physically trodden, become fruitful time and again through our decision to set out and our feeling for the journey. I shall not be rejuvenated there. We shall not drink the water of life there. We shall not be healed there. We shall simply have been there. Okay then. We still don’t know why these four but it does look as if he’s in charge. Eventually they disembark and seem, instinctively, to know their way; they only hesitate briefly when they find themselves at the edge of a large forest before crossing “a kind of border”. From here on things start to get weird, maybe not quite Alice-in-Wonderland-weird but still weird and they happily accept everything without batting an eye; in that respect they’re all like Alice. A good example is the gambler’s knapsack which is nothing less than a magic satchel—think Mary Poppins’s handbag—and whatever they need by it a basketball or a raincoat large enough to cover them all he can provide it.So where are they and why are they there? Well, I’m not going to spoil the book but it includes two epigraphs from Chuang Tzu which will probably serve to confuse you even further especially this one:Man’s life between heaven and earth is like a white colt dropping into a crevasse and suddenly disappearing … Suppose we try to roam about in the palace of Nowhere, where all things are one. The book is called Absence. It’s not a word that appears often in the text but where it does, and very powerfully, is in a speech given by the soldier’s mother:You’re always absent. At home, where you’ve spent twenty years of your life and have hardly ever been away, nobody asks for you. Nobody remembers you, neither your teachers nor your classmates; and even your friend of those days doesn’t think of me anymore as your mother but only as Frau So-and-So. Even we, your parents, when we see you find it hard to believe that it’s really you. You’re there and then again you’re not. It’s your absence that drives us away from you. Because it doesn’t come natural to you, you put it on as a defence against us, against others, against the world; it’s your weapon. You frighten me with your absence. Is the same true of the others? Perhaps but their absences aren’t explained nearly as forcefully.The book’s highly descriptive and some of these descriptions are quite breath-taking but after a while I started to tire of them. I wanted to know what was going on with these four and what they were to each other. The soldier is the quietest of the four but when he does finally speak he too sheds some light on their situation:You are new here, but not strangers. Each of you has been here before! In the period when you were wandering around aimlessly, you wanted to return here, you traced the paths leading to this country on the watermarks of your banknotes; when a book didn’t speak to you of this country in the daytime, your dreams spoke of it at night. Kirkus Review wondered if these four are “separate aspects of a writer's life” and that’s a reasonable proposition. About halfway through I wondered if they were dead and on their way to the afterlife—think afterlife express—but even when I got to end I wasn’t sure especially when the old man separates himself from the other three. There’re mysteries here to solve but I’m not sure many readers with have the patience or care enough to give this book the time it needs and that’s probably the real problem here: I really wasn’t rooting for these four or any one of them. The one thing that did annoy me was the mysterious switch in narrator. At first it’s clearly an omniscient narrator watching the old man and the woman in their rooms but later a paragraph begins:Now all four are at the table and the meal is over. The glasses are still there, but only the old man is drinking wine; the gambler and the woman are smoking; the soldier has moved a short distance away; resting one heel on the knee of the other leg, he is twanging a Jew’s harp rendered invisible by the hand he is holding over it—isolated chords with such long pauses between them that in the end we stop expecting a tune. [bold mine] Who are “we”? Surely an authorial slip. But later:The walkers did not cross the bridge but followed an old mule track along the river. We were heading downstream…No doubt here. It has to be one of the four. And again, “There the four of us stayed a long while…” Well, that's clear. But which one’s narrating? “The old man was waiting for us…”—so not the old man. “[A]s we were all lying on our bed of foliage, the woman spoke…”—so not the woman. “[W]e followed our scout’s directions…--the scout here is the soldier which means it must be the gambler. Er, no: “In vain we waited for the gambler, who ordinarily had something handy for every emergency…” So who’s doing the talking? Damned if I know because every now and then the omniscient narrator takes over and the words ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘us’ vanish from the text. Perhaps this is where Kirkus Review got the idea that these four are not individuals but aspects of a single personality. Either way I was confused.It’s not a long book—it can just about be read in a single sitting—but I’m not sure it works; it didn’t work for me but, like Okri’s book, something of it will I suspect stay with me so maybe not an entirely wasted few hours.

  • David Antonelli
    2018-12-06 15:47

    I am a huge Peter Handke fan and consider him one of the most important modern writers since Becket and Camus. I find his vivid but precise prose an endless truce of fascination and this novel, perhaps his most abstract and experimental, was a big influence wile writing my novel The Architect, which has sections written in a kind of detached poetic voice, sort of like the angels inner dialogue in Wings of Desire. In Absence there are several travellers and we weave through their thoughts and impressions as they make their journey, whether exploratory or metaphoric, is open for interpretation. There are many sections that are so haunting that I have to read and reread them in astonishment as I saver every single word, every single comma or semi colon - of which there are many! A book for "writers" and "dreamers" that may not appeal to all, but is certainly profound and original and worth reading at least once to see what can be done with words - Handke is a true Wizard of prose!

  • Stephan
    2018-11-11 16:02

    Couldn't finish it. And even though not finishing a book haunts me...leaving me wondering if the ending would have made it...I just didn't think the book was written well enough, or interesting enough to be worthy of finishing it.Handke tries to weave the lives of a few separate characters, but his exact descriptions are unattached like someone who's eaten too much and stares lazily out a train window. I kept asking myself what the hell was going on after every three sentences.

  • Amandine
    2018-11-11 19:12

    Assez intéressant et énigmatique: il garde ses secrets malgré ma lecture. On suit le voyage des personnages qui se sont liés l'un à l'autre sans que j'aie vraiment compris comment: ils parlent très peu et ne se répondent jamais directement les uns aux autres. L'impression initiale de poésie m'est restée, bien que moins forte que je ne l'espérais.

  • Christopher
    2018-11-24 16:58

    Very sparse and a little slow. They story of 4 nameless people taking an extended camping trip into the unknown. Handke seems to be interested in how we define the "home" in relation to the "self", but it could have used a little more fleshing out.

  • InternetRex
    2018-11-25 20:13

    Let's trade

  • Jason
    2018-11-29 15:45

    This is my least favorite of his books (that I've read). It didn't stick together for me.

  • Lee
    2018-11-16 14:05

    Forgettably good.