Friday, December 25, 2009

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

I have never read a book so long that I hated so much.  The more I read, the more I hated it, and then I hated it because it would not end.

A lot of the ideas in it ought to appeal to me - the enmeshing of disease and love, the fleshly-spiritual cross currents, the discursive style - but I was totally unmoved.

I hated every last character in the book, and that didn't help; but many of Proust's characters are unlikable, and I love Proust.  I think the difference is that in the end, though Marcel can't respect people like the Verdurins, they nonetheless become heroic...they become larger than life.  I felt like all the people, all the events in the Magic Mountain, shrunk into dust bunnies, filth on the floor, something meaningless and a little repulsive.

I hated the endless descriptions of the natural environment.  I hated the endless philosophical debates between Settembrini and anyone.  I hated Hans Castorp.  I hated the endless repetition.  I do not know how many hundreds of times I read about the "excellent lounge chairs" or the "hearty meals" at the Sanatorium. I was reminded countless times how and when the patients wrapped themselves in blankets.  Eventually, every time I saw those details, I would be infuriated.

The only thing I liked about the whole book was Clavdia Chauchat.  She was magnificent.  I loved the way that Mann described her body, her movements, her hands, her eyes.  I loved her dialogue, her sly and suggestive slink.  I loved her name, and I love that she cruelly rejected Hans Castorp, because I would have, too.

NB: It's a few years now since I wrote this, and I have to say that there is at least one thing about The Magic Mountain that I recall with great pleasure.  Hans Castorp - a worthless sniveler if ever there was one - gets his clumsy mitts on an X-Ray of Clavdia Chauchat.  Of her chest I think?  He finds it profoundly erotic.

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