The Magic Mountain (1)

On the back of my copy of The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, the editors call it a “dizzyingly rich novel of ideas.” An ordinary young man visits his sick cousin at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps and ends up staying for seven years. The sanatorium, a strange community full of sick people from all over Europe, is meant to be a “microcosm for Europe” before WWI. I don’t know very much about European history, only what I learned in High School (and that isn’t enough), so tackling this book felt like a daunting task. I’ve been using the sales receipt as a book mark, and it’s dated 2007, and that’s when I first started it. A writer whose books I’d admired talked about The Magic Mountain at a signing, so I picked it up. I read about one hundred pages and then put it down, because at that time I was very worried that I was missing some piece of the historic puzzle. S0, the book sat on my shelf for these last few years, and I’ve always wanted to finish it . . . because, I really enjoyed the bit that I’d read. So, I’m trying again, and I’m making you hold me accountable. I don’t know why I feel like I HAVE to finish this novel, but now that I’m sitting down with it again, I’m enjoying Mann’s language, the real beauty of his descriptions, the surreal moments, the high altitude, the odd conversations  . . . I don’t really have a mind for philosophy, and “novels of ideas” usually leave me pretty cold, unless they’re complete. By that I mean, they have to be more than novels of ideas, they have to have characters and life. At least for this reader. I like books about people.

Even though Ulysses is filled with allusions and puzzles (which Joyce delighted in), it is still a book that can be enjoyed having not solved every puzzle or understood every allusion. It is, in some ways, a novel about “what the heart is and how it feels” as Stephen’s mother says at the end of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I’m still learning what The Magic Mountain is about; I haven’t finished it yet, so I should shut up about it until then.


2 Responses

  1. It’ll warm up considerably when Hans falls in love. Did you get to the skiing scene yet?

    • I haven’t gotten to the skiing scene yet. Hans has really started to notice Clavdia and everyone is gossiping. It has been slow going, but only because I’m trying not to skim at all. I’m falling in love with Mann’s writing. I’m looking forward to the skiing scene now. One of my favorite parts so far is when Hans goes for his walk and gets a nosebleed. Thanks for reading!

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