I feel like Walser and I are off to a bit of a rocky start. What interests me most about The Assistant and Walser’s approach to the main character, Joseph, are precisely the problems I found with the novel. When Walser is writing an incisive and bleak psychological portrait of a borderline sociopath, his prose is stunning and his observations often poignant; however, Walser mixes his psychological portraiture with an iterative and boring bourgeois narrative that places Joseph in a classed subject position repeatedly, ad nauseam.
Perhaps The Assistant might have worked better as a short story or novella—these repetitions become cumbersome and detract from Walser’s more intriguing character study. I often felt, too, that Walser wants us as readers to be far removed from the characters: the way that he’s able to create such a phenomenal narrative distancing is truly astounding here, but with the repetition and cumbersome, often cliched plotting, the distancing causes more rupture than interest, creates more of a rift between the reader and the book itself than the reader and the characters.
I do look forward to reading more Walser, but I suspect it will be some time before I feel ready to tackle another of his books.