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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 January 2014
Where Rilke's poetry can aspire to the transcendent, this novel is dark, very dark. This first person narrative is moody and intense, with flashes of brilliance, but not easy overall. Yes, many passages have the formal qualities of a prose poem. But Rilke's content is unexpected: you have to be in the right frame of mind to get along with this book.

The Danish narrator is in Paris - he has chosen to isolate himself from friends and family - and is struggling with an existentially-centered depression. The early entries establish that if he is from an aristocratic family, the narrator is deliberately living among the French poor, wanting to be anonymous and unknown. He is seeking escape from his past.

Quickly we discover that identity will be a major theme in Rilke's book: the narrator reflects on how medical science has changed our understanding of personality. The way people are sick, or die, is no longer an extension of their identity. All is now classified and catagorised according to symptoms. People don't bear an illness stoically; they respond to medication and treatment.

The narrator's reflections lead us deeper and deeper into his mind. It is brilliant, illuminating, and disturbing. If the book is visibly influenced by Knut Hamsun's Hunger, Rilke is far more brooding and introspective. You cannot speed through his novel.

And you have to go back at points and re-read. (The explanatory endnotes in this edition are essential - the conversation about Beethoven, who is not identified, would have been confusing without them - and there probably could be quite a few more.)
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on 18 May 2008
"Letters to a young poet" made me interested in Rilke, and therefore "The Notebooks of Malthe Laurids Brigge" founds it way to my night stand.

Rilke's voice is very different in the two. "Notebooks" seems so much more orchestrated and not as quotable or easily read as "Letters". However, "Notebooks" has its own sombre drift that carries you - the reader - into the realm of the young Brigge, his thoughts and his childhood. What I like about the medium of a notebooks is its authenticity. It has the detail and rigid structure of many real notebooks and diaries, unlike many of fictional diaries that read as one continuous line of thought. This makes "Notebooks" personal and I found myself absorbing the thoughts.

Also "Notebooks" is to be read slowly or aloud to savor the poetry of the words. There are truly beautiful, detailed descriptions in "Notebooks" and I would recommend the book for this reason alone.

I was extremely grateful for the section of notes in the back of the book. Rilke makes reference to 14th century French kings, dukes and other noblemen, that I was completely unaware of.

I am sure that "Notebooks" deserve more than 3 stars. However, I must admit that my understanding of "Notebooks" only results in 3 stars. There is much in "Notebooks" to be analysed and deciphered.

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on 8 June 2015
The 'Notebooks' contain several wonderful passages - notably, Rilke's descriptions of Paris street scenes and his character's reminiscences of childhood in Denmark. However, the book lacks a plot and jumps abruptly from one episode or intellectual theme to another, giving it a disjointed quality that arguably detracts from the force of its arguments.
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on 1 May 2010
This is the only novel of a famous German poet, Rainer Rilke written in 1910. I was attracted to the book because it is described on the back as `full of existential disquiet' - I know nothing of the author or style of poetry and thus was reading it without prejudice.

The book is in the form a notebook of thoughts of a `semi-autobiographical' Malte Brigge. The opening scenes are more contemporary of Malte's childhood and family, the majority of later scenes are his reflections on real historical characters of the 1300-1500's and some key events in their lives. There is no link or arc within the text holding the short passages together (unlike say Pessoa's Book of Disquiet) - what makes them whole is Brigge himself and his writing style which is in a poetic and challenging structure.

I know I've read a good classic book when I find passages worth remembering here are a few quotes for you:

`'the wish for a death of one's own is becoming ever more infrequent. Before long it will be just as uncommon as a life of one's own'

`is it possible to believe we could have a god without making use of him?'

`Oh how I trembled to be in the costume, and how thrilling it was when I actually wore it; when something emerged from the gloom, more slowly than oneself, for the mirror did not believe it, as it were, and, sleepy as it was, did not want promptly to repeat what it was told; though at length it had to, of course.

`I know that I am destined for the very worst, it will be no help at all if I disguise myself in my best clothes'

Now why have I only given this 3 stars then? I found two things too difficult for me to enjoy this book. 1) There is no narrative thread, and with the second half of the book being notably disconnected and grating I just couldn't keep the text in mind 2) (accepting the possibility of a poor translation) I found the poetic style very tricky indeed - I quickly lost track of the subject of the passage, and when I thought I knew and read the next passage confusingly it may or may not have been a continuance.

In style and interest I did find this book a little bit reminiscent of Nadja by Breton. Try these books if you want to see how differently books can be constructed. Some of the existential stuff in Brigge is really good but if you're after that try Sartre first.
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on 3 October 2000
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rilke's twenty-eight year old Danish alter-ego, is of primary interest for introducing themes and which the poet was to develop so skillfully in is later works, such as the Duino Elegies and the Sonnets of Orpheus. Brigge, a lonely poet seemingly trapped in a Paris of terrifying hospitals, hotels and sanitoriums, allows us into his (sometimes aimless) thoughts on solitude, love, absence and age.
Though at times Rilke's poeticism seems a little to imprecise for a prose work, it oftens gives us wonderful descriptions of life. A particular favourite of mine being the section often referred to as 'the Bird Feeders'.
The overall impression upon reading the Notebooks is that of viewing the transition of an artist from precocious (but often overly lyrical) poet to grandmaster of emotion. Whimsical, often amusing and emotive, anyone with an interest in Rilke's fine later poetry must read this.
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on 2 August 2009
This is, as far as I am concern, one of the best works of an author not used to write in prose. It mirrors his poetry but feels more raw and honest. Probably a very good introduction to Rilke.
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