on 17 May 2005
Aptly titled book this; it is indeed mountainous - and not just in that it's huge. It is the Everest of books: it's a Herculean task to get try to conquer it but if you do the view is, to follow the metaphor, pretty spectacular. It's also entirely unlike anything I've read in just about any terms - the pace, the style, the narrative and the plot (or lack of it) are all as far as I know unique. Reading it isn't either laborious or fast-paced, I'd call it - in absence of a better word - luxurious; I found myself almost drifting through it, and at times it's no exaggeration to say I just found myself marvelling at the fluid, idea-strewn prose. Whilst it's probably not for the impatient, I still highly, highly reccommend it.
I cannot pretend that this is an easy book and I was glad to be as old as 23 when I first read it. It was the first novel of real stature that I had read and I was exhilarated. It tells the story of the unremarkable Hans Castorp, accompanying his T.B. infected cousin Joachim to an Alpine sanatorium. As the train leaves the plain of Hamburg and ascends the land to the Alps, time and space work their relativistic magic as we come to the mountain. Part of this mountain's magic is that here time is slowed, priorities change and the spirit of something not unlike carnival quietly permeates this most unworldly institution. By increments, Castorp is absorbed by the hermetically isolated environment, growing up under various influences, from the sensual Claudia Chauchat (and she is one!), the liberal intellectual Settembrini, his antagonist the Priestly Communist Naptha, (reputedly 'based' on the lit crit Georg Lukacs) and last the lyrical-almost-beyond-words dionysian poet and seer Mynheer Peeperkorn ('based' on Stephan Georg; the influence of Nietzsche on 20th German culture is hard to overestimate). At the party he properly encounters the mysterious Claudia, is captivated and enchanted - that word - and finding himself outside has a mystical experience in the snow when lost and it seems as if he must die, All this is the young, naïve Hans maturing, against the background of what we see are vital debates between his more demagogic companions and odd phenomena like the X-Ray and the girls with their whistling pneumothoraxes, a thing both funny and slightly sinister, as much here is. In fact, the nationalist Mann of preWar years is dramatizing the catastrophe of 1914 Europe - this is in part a coming to terms with it - although the novel works on a simpler plane as well as this more refined one. By the end....well suffice it to say that the ending is enigmatic, but Mann gives you plenty to consider, as I still do all these years later. It is a beguiling, brilliant, intellectually adventurous story, poetic as I hadn't expected the reputedly bourgeois Mann to be. My favourite chapter title ever is to be found here: 'Soup Everlasting'. With that and a Walpurgisnacht chapter, one could not reasonably ask for more. A quite stupendous achievement and possibly the best thing he ever wrote (in some moods I think 'Dr Faustus', which you will want to read if you like this, but almost always it is this). Brilliant in many ways.
on 20 December 2009
having read another translation, and been struck by theinconsistencies of the work, I was delighted to re-read this work in the Everyman edition, and was immediately impressed by my greater understanding of this iconic work, helped certainly by the introduction by AS Byatt. For those of you not German literate, I would heartily recommend this edition as a first read. The print is also comfortable to read, and a quality piece of printing - well done to Everyman!
on 17 March 2006
This is a book quite unlike any other, and is likely to be a read you remember for the rest of your life, it's that impressive.
One of the most sriking features is the pace, which is very deliberate....and will no doubt frustrate many readers by seeming slow and focussing on what might appear as trivialities. However, it builds into a superb picture not just of the characters but of what they represent. All of pre-WW1 european society is represented along with the preoccupations of that time. As a doctor, i also enjoyed the medical aspects of the book, including the sick role and the power of a paternalistic medical profession.
My reasons for ascribing 3 stars are entirely related to the translation by lowe-porter...she herself apologises for the quality of the work in the preface. With a shiny new translation by john woods now available, please consider obtaining that version. I "jumped ship" after reading the first 200 pages of lowe-porter's version and found the woods version so much more enjoyable, the characters have lost their muffled voices.
on 29 April 2002
Not only a gripping story with characters constructed in the finest detail, but also an intense meditation on the passing of time. My eagerness to read the next chapter was constantly in conflict with my desire to pause and think over what I had read so far. Persevere with it - the pace is slow to begin with - because if you like books filled with ideas, you really will be missing out if you don't give it a chance.
I tried to read this in my youth but gave up; however after recently discovering Mann's superlative 'Buddenbrooks', thought I would give it another go.
From the point of view of narrative, Mann sustained my interest throughout. The account of young Hans Castorp, on the brink of a career, who goes to pay a brief visit to a consumptive cousin in a Swiss sanatorium but ends up staying so much longer; the description of life in an institution - albeit a luxurious one; the treatment of the disease in the early years of the 20th century were of great interest. And as events take their toll, and we reach the seance scene - and indeed the ending of the story - Mann's lovely writing brings tears to one's eyes.
However the narrative is interspersed with great sections of philosophical musings, as Hans becomes acquainted with two opposing mentors, Settembrini and Naphta, ('it was again impossible to distinguish which side was in the right, where God stood and where the Devil, where death and where life') whose lengthy and obscure harangues made this reader's heart sink, and felt like wading through porridge. I absolutely confess to only getting the drift of a small percentage of this, coming to identify with the character Ferge, "to whom all elevated thoughts were foreign."
Rating the novel is thus difficult, as I fully realise that loftier minds than mine have been able to appreciate Mann's work. And that the author himself, in his postscript, requests 'that it be read not once but twice' to get 'a deeper enjoyment.'
I shan't be re-reading it; I have to say that when I finally reached page 716 I shouted 'hurrah! I've done it!' It's lovely in parts but mighty heavy going.
on 29 December 2009
Take your time reading this 'Matterhorn' of European literature. You'll need a break from time to time to regain your breath but don't worry, the mountain will still be there for you to just pick up where you left off. John E. Woods is definitely the translator to read with all of Mann's novels. Forget the old translations of Lowe-Porter, now widely ridiculed by scholars as misleading of Mann's true voice.
on 30 September 2001
Ideal for the reader who wishes to escape from this hectic world into the rarefied atmosphere of a T.B. sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps for a longish period (the novel has 854 pages). The hero, Hans Castorp, reminds me of a German Bertie Wooster in his other-worldliness. Being German he is of course more staid and circumspect than Bertie, but there is just that tinge of not quite living on the same planet as the rest of us. The novel is in fact set in what in Britain was the Edwardian era.
Other reviewers have complained about the lack of action. In my opinion the only action of the sort they mean - when Hans gets lost in a snow storm while out skiing - doesn't really come off, precisely because it is not that sort of book. One always suspects that Hans Castorp's "illness" which keeps him in the sanatorium after a brief visit is an unexpressed contrivance between the management who need the income from new patients and Hans himself who rather prefers the company of the "inmates" to the life he can expect in his guardian's business in Hamburg. There is more than enough intellectual and philosophical action for the thoughtful reader, and the impression of timelessness that it evokes is a welcome antidote to our now tempestuous times.
I have wanted to read this book for a long time, and decided to take the plunge on discovering this new translation by John E Woods. This is a monster of a book - at 854 closely typeset pages, it is going to take a long time to read - in my case, the best part of a month. My opinion on finishing is that if you like this sort of thing its tremendously rewarding, but even still its going to be a difficult read at times, and you will find that some of the dense philosophical dialogue will need to be skim-read if you are not going to get bogged down.
There are many think I liked about it:
- A unique setting and situation - the patients at a Swiss Sanatorium in the 77 years preceding World War 1;
- The closed world Mann creates with its obsessions and rivalries, its artificial manners and routines. This is a unique fictitious society, but one that is entirely credible in view of the situation its inhabitants find themselves in;
- The way it so perfectly captures the state of mind of the patients, their adaptation to their illness and the way they have found a community that accepts them as they are;
- The creation of a timeless world where months merge into one another and years pass without notice;
- The way the sanatorium is a microcosm of Europe in the early part of the 20th century, with all the national conflicts in the wider world being played out in this intense community of tuberculosis sufferers.
- The perfect descriptions of obsessive states of mind that can be developed in such situations, imaginary love affairs, supernatural occurrences, intense antagonisms on the one hand and alliances on the other.
On the downside, the characters in the novel are incredibly verbose. When they speak, they go on for pages, and you have to picture the other people in the conversations standing politely waiting for the speaker to finish before they launch off into their own equally dense replies. However, this is all part of Mann's creation of "timelessness", and if you want to read this book in a hurry you're going to miss the point.
The translation is modern and natural and while I do not read German, I suspect that the spirit of the author comes through the pages.
I am pleased to have read this and feel quite a sense of achievement. My only regret is that I felt the ending is a bit hurried (remarkable for this book!), and is not entirely satisfactory. However, undoubtedly a pillar of 20th century literature, this book should not be missed - if you have the time to read it.
on 23 December 2014
This review is specifically about the Vintage version of this book and/or the translation by H.T. Lowe-Porter.
Beware: There is a large 5 page section of this book that is completely in French and relies on you understanding French or typing it all into Google Translate. To make matters worse, this happens (No spoilers) at one of the finest peaks in the book.
If you are like me and can read some trifling French your choice is to either try your best to understand the general gist of what they are talking about (and lose some of the brilliance of a wonderful scene) or find another translation online that tells you what they are saying.
It's a shame because otherwise I enjoyed the translation, but I can't understand the smugness that assumes you will speak French enough to read 5 pages of it without warning.