[In] the book most obviously indebted to "Lenz," Thomas Bernhard’s devastating novel "The Loser," the narrator labors to convince us that his friend, Wertheimer, is the real "loser," while the reader can see that the poor narrator himself hardly escapes that terrible designation.While not wishing to be pedantic (well, not all of the time), this interpretation relies on the unfortunate translation of the German original Der Untergeher, which might be translated literally as The Undergoer or The One Who Goes Under. The Loser just doesn't cover it.
Wertheimer's suicide which occurs before the book begins is a form of going-under that he and the narrator saw in the virtuosity of Glenn Gould's playing of the piano. For both, witnessing Gould's sublime talent signalled the end of their own musical careers. In that sense, both are losers. Yet Wertheimer has gone under. The narrator might then be said to be the real loser, thus meeting Wood's interpretation. But he has just written this book, the one we are reading - this sublime, virtuosic novel borne on the failure to go under.
An anorak's aside: James Wood reviewed the translation of The Loser when it was published in Britain back in 1992. As you can see from my annotated image of the clipping, he upset me at the time by calling Bernhard "a drastically limited artist, despite the bloated claims made on his behalf" (Italo Calvino, for instance, called him "the greatest writer in the world"). Oh for more limited artists! We'll have to make do instead with this week's half-dozen-or-so 750-page ambitious novels taking on or tackling the history of the 20th Century.