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This review is taken from PN Review 54, Volume 13 Number 4, March - April 1987.

THE CARINTHIAN KAISER Peter Handke, Across, translated by Ralph Manheim (Methuen) £9.95
Peter Handke, The Left-Handed Woman, translated by Ralph Manheim (Methuen) £2.95 pb.
Peter Handke, Slow Homecoming, translated by Ralph Manheim (Methuen) £3.95 pb.

In 1966, when TLS reviews were still anonymous and referred to the author as Herr Handke, his first novel Die Hornissen was found to be sterile, modish, contrived and obscure. The reviewer got it in one, but at that date he must have been glad of the shelter of anonymity, for the Handke cult was then gathering momentum following the success of his first play Publikumsbeschimpfung and his tilts at Gruppe 47 windmills, and the cult grew emphatic and unchallengeable as the 1960s gave way to the 1970s. Peter Handke got into his stride: Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter, the film notwithstanding, has been vastly over-rated, but two years later Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied and Wunschloses Unglück (both 1972) showed that Handke could indeed write powerfully, and it is on these two earlier achievements that his reputation must still rest. Then as the 1970s wore on, something happened. Though Handke continued to sell very well, the Austrian and German critics increasingly felt the Carinthian Kaiser had not even a fig-leaf to his name, and said so (Reich-Ranicki loudest of all in the FAZ, though he was by no means alone); while at the same time the Anglo-American reception picked up speed, Malcolm Bradbury calling Handke 'this most precise of modern writers of fiction' and John Updike 'the best young writer [. . .] in his language'. Today new works by Handke are greeted without enthusiasm in the German-speaking world; in the USA he has passed into ...

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