Night Work

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Like Clemens J Setz, Thomas Glavinic is a young Austrian writer who is not afraid to use the trappings of genre fiction. Both Indigo and Glavinic’s Night Work have the feel of a high concept US television series. In Night Work, translated by John Brownjohn, both the story-telling and the concept are more straight-forward: (as posed on the cover) How does it feel to be the last man alive?

Night Work begins with its protagonist, Jonas, waking up to discover the world is not quite as it was. Initial clues are more puzzling than unsettling: his television doesn’t seem to be working (“Nothing on the screen but snow”) and his newspaper hasn’t been delivered; his computer will display only a server error message and the helpline simply rings unanswered. None of this stops him making his way to work, but once outside his apartment he discovers:

“…there was no-one else in sight. Not a soul or a car to be seen.”

This occurs within the first few pages of a novel which is almost 400 pages long. Once it is established that Jonas is alone, Galvinic’s focus is not why this has happened, but how Jonas will react. Of course, initially his actions are fairly predictable: he goes to his work to see if anyone is there and also checks his father’s house (his girlfriend, Marie, is staying with relatives in England). The next day he searches further, leaving Vienna and writing messages as he travels, including sending postcards to himself, perhaps hoping that if everything just as mysteriously returns to normal they will provide proof of his experiences. Already, despite the absence of all other life (no animals or birds either) he feels threatened:

“He stuck the knife in his belt. He also took the wrench with him.”

Initially the reader may well expect external events to progress the narrative: will he find someone else? Will evidence emerge of what has happened? But this is a narrative driven entirely by Jonas’ internal life, which becomes increasingly suspicious and confused. He begins to set up cameras around the city in the hope of discovering life, but also films himself when asleep. This creates another persona whom Jonas refer to as the Sleeper, becoming convince he has his own identity:

“The Sleeper must have been equally tired last night. Lay quite still.”

Jonas also becomes increasingly attached to his past, decanting much of his parents’ house to his apartment, visiting a family holiday spot, and frequently reminiscing over photographs, places or objects. Given his loneliness this seems quite natural, and also allows the author to give us more insight into his character.

The most dynamic part of the narrative is when he heads through the Channel Tunnel to England in an attempt to find Marie. He is now exhausted most of the time and often disorientated when he wakens:

“Jonas opened his eyes, but everything was till dark. He tried to get his bearings, couldn’t even remember going to sleep. His last memory had been of the motorway, the monotonous grey ribbon ahead of him.”

As Jonas’ life becomes increasingly internal it raises the question of whether the entire narrative is simply within his head. In the final pages Glavinic uses the fact this is a written text to slow time (“Time was juxtaposition, not a succession”) which would, of course, allow for the novel itself to occur in a much more fleeting moment than Jonas’ careful notation of dates would imply. Similarly, with only one character, we are entirely reliant on a single consciousness for the presentation of the novel’s world. Glavinic’s central aim, however, seems to be to explore Jonas’ loneliness, and to reaffirm our need for others.

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4 Responses to “Night Work”

  1. JacquiWine Says:

    I love what you manage to dig up, Grant, as this looks like another very interesting book. At first I thought it sounded a little like the film 28 Days Later, but it seems as if the author has gone down a different (less ‘obvious’) route?

  2. Caroline Says:

    I’ve got another one by Glavinic but it sounds much more realistic but it has an element of paranoia. Sounds like an interesting author.

    • 1streading Says:

      I must admit, I was attracted to the premise of this one (I’ve not read anything else by him though I believe another two novels are available in English) and was impressed by the way he sustained it.

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