Elfriede Jelinek is an Austrian writer. She was born in 1946 in Mürzzuschlag, Steiermark. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004. Jelinek has written both novels and plays, in which she explores the darkest parts of humans, exposing how rotten society can be. Her works mostly focus on Austrian society and culture. Jelinek used to be a Marxist, but has recently given that up and become more focused on feminism.
Jelinek has become known mostly as a Misandrist (hatred towards males) and misanthropist (hatred towards all humans). Personally, I don’t think she’s either. Jelinek writes about the most disturbed people, but she does always show briefly some sane people. Jelinek criticizes both her male and female characters. Both the women and men can be violent, over-controlling, and fascist. This theme is usually shown in most of her works. Jelinek has written many good novels, but perhaps her most brilliant one is “Wonderful, wonderful, times”.
“Wonderful, wonderful times” is about four violent teenagers and their families: Rainer and Anna, twins, who live with their former SS-officer father, and their mother, who is frequently being beaten by the father. Rainer sees himself as a genius, a super-intellectual while becoming appalled and arrogant towards everyone. Anna just wants to take out her frustration on strangers. Hans wants to become a gym teacher, even if he lacks any discipline to do anything. He’s father has died in a concentration camp and his mother is trying to figure out how to help her son. Sophie comes from a rich family. She, like her mother, is spoiled and throws tantrums all the time. The novel begins with the four youngsters beating up a man for no apparent reason. As the plot strengthens, we learn that these youngsters are a product of the Austrian post-war era.
“Wonderful, wonderful times” can be read as a critique of Austrian culture. Of how Austrians still have huge racial and xenophobic issues in their country, about their views on women, of the growing violence culture among teenagers (which is a result from messed-up adults). But it can easily be a critique of any European country. The book is violent and rough with its pessimism. There are occasionally some funny parts, but they also make you cry while laughing. It is not an easy read, I myself felt a bit sick after reading the last five pages. However, “Wonderful, wonderful times” is an important work on post-war Europe. It truly captures all the dark sides of our societies and truthfully makes us think twice before saying that what’s in the past is in the past.
Jelinek’s works deal usually with big, political issues and misuse of power. In “Lust”, Jelinek uses an abusive marriage to describe capitalism. In this novel she writes perhaps my favorite quote from her books: “Money plays games with people”. In “The piano teacher”, her most famous work, she tells the tale of the love-hate relationship between a controlling mother and her sexually repressed daughter. The daughter, being a piano teacher, starts a strange affair with one of her students, resulting in disaster. Here Jelinek uses parenting to illustrate the brutal affect fascism has on the ordinary person as well as criticizing over-bearing parenting. All these novels are worth checking out.
As a final note, I’ll remark that if you want to read “Wonderful, wonderful times” in another language than English, note that the translated title may be very different from this one. For example, the Swedish title is “De Utslängda”. (= the outcast).