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Peter Handke: Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick)

This may well be Handke’s best-known novel, in part because of the excellent film made of the book by Wim Wenders (with whom Handke will collaborate on other films). Josef Bloch used to be well-known goalkeeper. He is now in the construction business. He turns up for work and learns that he has been fired. He casually walks away, apparently unconcerned by this news. He drifts around, doing the things he might normally do. One night, he follows the cashier of the cinema, where he has been a couple of times. They go to her apartment, have sex and, the following morning, for no apparent reason, he kills her.

The rest of the book is Bloch’s reaction to his crime. Naturally, he tries to escape capture but he also enjoys being mentioned in the paper, in the same way as he was when he was a famous goalkeeper. He goes to the country to visit an old girlfriend and wanders round there as he did in the city. Essentially, there is little plot, only Bloch’s reaction and feelings. And it is clear that Bloch is the essential alienated man, out of touch with his surroundings, unable to make the connection between words and the objects they signify. Like Meursault, in L’Etranger, and other literary figures of the twentieth century. Bloch, Handke is telling us, is a man who cannot relate to his environment and the people in it. All he can do is try and save the penalty kick.

Publishing history

First published in German 1970 by Suhrkamp
First English translation 1972 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux