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The Man Without Qualities Paperback – 16 Sep 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 1152 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (16 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1447211871
  • ISBN-13: 978-1447211877
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 5.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Robert Musil was born in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 1880. Trained in science and philosophy, he left a career in the military to turn to writing. The publication of his novel Young Törless in 1906 brought him international recognition and remains a classic parable on the misuse of power. After serving in the First World War, Musil lived alternately in Vienna and Berlin, with much of his time being dedicated to the slow writing of his masterwork, The Man Without Qualities. In 1938, when Hitler's rise to power threatened Musil's work with being banned in both Austria and Germany, he emigrated to Switzerland, where he and his wife lived until his death in 1942. The first complete German edition of The Man Without Qualities finally appeared in 1978.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Rough Diamond TOP 500 REVIEWER on 8 Nov 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have to admit I found this hard going. It's a book that makes few concessions to its readers. The pleasures of plot, characterision and even descriptive writing are all in painfully short supply. Instead, the book hinges around what you could almost call an anti-plot - the impossible conceptual gridlock its characters face in devising an appropriate celebration of the Austrian Emperor's 70th Jubilee and, more broadly, in making sense of their own lives. As an expression of the 'modernist dilemma', I can understand why Musil's writing is bracketed along with Mann and Joyce, but I have to say I found Musil much, much more boring to read. Apart from the utter absence of any plot-driven momentum, I simply didn't believe at all in any of his characters, whom Musil moves around Vienna like chess pieces, seemingly for the sole purpose of making long and implausible declamatory statements to each other about their various philosophical dilemmas. The characters themselves are so under-realised they seem to float through the book as mere names in a vacuum of pure abstraction. Ulrich, the book's leading man, is clearly Musil, as much as Marcel in 'A La Recherce' is Proust, but as well as using Ulrich as a mouthpiece (at some length), Musil also constantly resorts to using the narrator's voice to hector his readers still further with his opinions. In fact, I go so far as to say that this is not really a novel at all, but more a long and unfocused piece of semi-staged philosophy.

Despite the book's huge drawbacks, there's still just about enough here to reward the patient reader for gamely plodding along through its 1100 pages. Musil is witty, and some of his metaphors and asides are stunningly sharp.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By ian hays on 23 Nov 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Musil is brilliant but this is not a book for light reading. Poetic concepts and time constitute the reading of this tome.
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6 of 22 people found the following review helpful By mr_pod on 7 Nov 2011
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Amazing - I won't give anything away - but read it!
If you enjoy books which are deep and thought provoking then this is for you. Hard to classify - I enjoy Elias Canetti, Salman Rushdie, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Franzen... maybe there are echoes there.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 16 reviews
65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Strangely Now 23 Dec 1999
By Matt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is an undeniably great novel, that despite its shortcomings stands head and shoulders above pretty much anything around. It attempts to explore the great themes - life and death, madness and sanity, objectivity and subjectivity - against the decay of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Being written in the 1930s about the pre-war years it is obviously knowing and didactic, but also very funny, primarily at the expense of rather foolish and pretensious toffs. While the main character Ulrich may vere towards the offensive in his lofty detachment, Musil endows him with such intelligence and rigour, with such unfeasible articulacy, that the reader can only be impressed. There is a snooty tendency to bracket Musil with Proust and Joyce, but this arises primarily from a shared half of the century, prolixity and apparent difficulty. Personally, I find Musil the least taxing of the three because his style is beautifully clear and focused. If,like me, you are largely unacquainted with the intricacies of modernist philosophy but are attracted by the novel of ideas then the MWQ is an incredibly invigorating reading experience. Musil is more approachable than Thomas Mann (compare MWQ to Mann's 'Doctor Faustus') and his exploration of ideas is clearer in his fiction than in his essays, because many of the ideas are delineated through discussion. Some readers may find the style unappeallingly scientific and cold, but, for what it's worth, I also love writers like John Cowper Powys, stylistically the antithesis of Musil. Ulrich's preoccupation with the fragmentation of knowledge and the increased routine of modern life of course reflects two great modernist themes (the automation and mechanisation of modern life, and the increasingly specialised nature of intellectual debate that stems, at least in part, from the undermining of the great systems of thought - Nietzsche's death of God etc.) and remain very resonant today. The vision of modern life that Musil explores inadvertently prompts the reader to consider the extent to which post-modernism represents a break with modernism, as the Anglo-Saxon world tends to believe, than a continuation and and development of the modern. Best of all this book made me feel clever and really did make a genuine impact on my perception of the world!
46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
The best book about the "post-modern" dilemma ever written! 17 Jun 1998
By Michael Owsowitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've only gotten through volume l and part of volume ll (so far). I agree that I find it incredible that Musil is not as well known as Proust...he's his equal as a writer and in my opinion a much finer thinker. The brilliance of the book is in the extended introspections rather than the events...the multi-page musings on the human condition illustrate the timeless aspects of what we conceitedly think of as our "post-modern" psychic quandry. In common with Proust we are inside the protagonist's head, but in the third rather than first person, which gives the experience a different feel...we're a little outside at the same time. It's a ghostlier sort of connection, but I think equally as immediate. We walk the streets of Vienna as vividly as Chambray, but, perhaps Ullrich's less romantic nature, I find him a better correspondent. His perceptions are intellectual rather than the sensual, and yet, experiencing that intellect is a sensual experience for the reader (at least for this one!)
A note: I do not think the recent translation compares to the original English one...it may read more breezily, but my brief comparison suggests that it loses a LOT of subtlety in trying to achieve a more colloquial, effortless, less dated narrative voice. For instance, a passage in the original English translation reading "knowledge was beginning to become unfashionable" is translated in the new as "science became outdated". Two totally different meanings, and the first is clearly closer, given the context..(in which Musil is waxing sarcastic about a silly but dangerous bourgeois "believing" fad - spookily portentious of the Hitler era). An incredibly absorbing psychological novel...if your reading time is precious...nothing will reward more deeply or stay with you longer.
61 of 69 people found the following review helpful
Quality of Man 23 Jan 2001
By fmeursault@yahoo.com - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Of all the great European novelists of the first third of the century -- Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Knut Hamsun, Herman Hesse -- Robert Musil is far and away the least read; and yet he's as shapely as Gibbon, as mordant as Voltaire, as witty as Oscar Wilde and as indecent as Arthur Schnitzler, a fellow Viennese writer who gets more attention. "The Man Without Qualities" is an extraordinary amalgam of the formidable, the delicious and the unfinished; and no doubt each of these attributes is in some measure dissuasive.
If we take it that the characteristics of 20th-century life are fatuity, doubt and confusion; the "barbaric fragmentation" of the self, where "impersonal matters . . . go into the making of personal happenings in a way that for the present eludes description"; a crisis of individual identity and collective purpose -- then it is Musil's astonishing achievement to make a comedy of all this.
The book begins with a baroque meteorological description; its first action is a car accident; the hero is first seen looking out of a window, stopwatch in hand, conducting a statistical survey of passing traffic. Can there be any doubt that it is a prophetic book about our world? Musil is us. The world of "global Austria" in 1913 and "the Parallel Action" -- the plan, in the novel, to claim 1918 for the jubilee celebrating the 70th year of the reign of the Emperor Francis Joseph before the Germans get it for Kaiser Wilhelm's 30th, made nonsense of by the intervention of World War I -- is our world of the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction and other fatuous schemes. While Musil's contemporaries Proust and Joyce chose interiority and the private world of memory, Musil is uncannily prescient about modern life, where sportsmen and criminals are indifferently idolized, where quantity sits in judgment on quality, so that an author, as Musil puts it, "must have an awful lot of like-minded readers before he can pass for an impressive thinker," where we sit and stew among "bobsled championships, tennis cups and luxury hotels along great highways, with golf course scenery and music on tap in every room." So "The Man Without Qualities" is satire; as one character says, "The man of genius is duty bound to attack." However, it is not harsh satire, nor is it sour. There is something loving about it. Musil's tone is unlike anyone else's. Partly it is the Austrian melancholy that underlies the book, the melancholy of a defunct empire, of a closed conditional: what was to happen did not. WHAT if, the novel implies, instead of expressing itself in the carnage of World War I, human folly had chosen another form? Partly it is the equable irony that plays over every character, institution and group in the book that makes reading Musil such an exquisitely flattering experience. No characters in the book escape mockery -- especially for taking themselves so seriously. All of them are skewed and partial, but none are caricatures; perhaps the book's almost complete lack of physical description plays a part here -- and yet, in spite of that, you feel you could pick them out in a lineup. They are Musil's puppets.
In his early career he wrote stories, plays and novels that had a certain popularity. But none of those prepare a reader for the expanse of "The Man Without Qualities". It took up the last two decades of his life, before he died in self-imposed exile in Switzerland in 1942, at the age of 61. It is a quite overwhelming novel, quite indeed...
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Great 18 Nov 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
No doubt the book is a little draggy and you can glean a lot of what Musil wants to say in his earlier more tightly written work. But, read this work (I've read this work twice) with the unpublished posthumous papers and you will get a feel of the vast scale of this masterpiece. If Musil had lived to complete this masterwork the way it would have inveitably turned out, it would have been the greatest novel of the century. It would have been the consummation of European thought of several centuries placed in context of both the first and second world wars...now that's something to think about.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Fun book 8 Dec 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Musil is a great writer. He is more adept than any other writer I know at conveying complex ideas, and keeping the reader hooked. I read this book is three days, non-stop. My eyes were riveted to the page like magnets. The story is very well constructed; it never becomes dense or exasperating. I don't know where Musil found the wherewithal, but this book ostensibly contains everything that had ever crossed his mind: it is jam-packed with eclectic ideas, obscure erudition, and mysticism. And it is unremmitingly interesting, too. So, don't listen to that pedant who dismissed this book because it doesn't show off like he does: read this book. It will give you quite a kick.
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