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Peter Handke: Die Hornissen [The Hornets]

This was Handke’s first novel and was not particularly successful, though it is interesting in prefiguring some of the themes that will preoccupy Handke later in his career. The book is a series of fragments, recounted by a blind narrator. The plot, if there is plot, is actually recounted by Handke near the end of the book. There are two brothers – one went blind (the narrator) (we do not know why nor does the narrator/novelist) and the other drowned. The drowning is explained in a chapter called The Story of the Drowning in which the narrator starts to explain how it happened. His two brothers had gone to school on their own and were fooling around. But Handke is not going to give us a straight narration. He stops and starts and then hands over to someone else. They were playing at Tarzan, jumping over a pool on a rope. The rope breaks and Matt falls in. The whole episode is described in a matter-of-fact tone.

The whole book consists of similar fragments as the narrator tries to reconstruct his life. In some cases, he tries to relate them to the blind protagonist of a half-forgotten novel he once read (or did he?) And, of course, it is often not really clear if it is the narrator talking or the novelist. Even the novelist, if it is, indeed, he who is talking, is unsure of what really happened as he explains in the penultimate chapter. Reality is not linear nor ordered, just fragmentary.

Publishing history

First published in German 1966 by Suhrkamp
No English translation
First translated into Dutch as De wespen in 1979 by Bruna
Translated by Ronald Jonkers
First translated into French as Les frelons in 1983 by Galliamrd
Marc B de Launay
First translated into Italian as I calabroni in 2019 by Guanda
Translated by Bruna Bianchi
First translated into Spanish as Los avisponesin 1973 by Centro Editor de America Latina
Translated by Francisco Zanutigh Nuñez
Also translated into Korean