Customer Review

62 of 80 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of a Nobel Prize?, 21 Feb 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Glass Bead Game (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Before coming to 'The Glass Bead Game' I had read 'Steppenwolf' and 'Siddhartha'. Both - to my sensibilities at the time - were sensitive, intelligently-written and sparkling works of prose that wrestled with some engaging questions. I knew that 'The Glass Bead Game' was considered Hesse's 'magnum opus'...and picked it up with a high degree of excitement. I was very interested to see what this fascinating man had created in order to seal his worldwide reputation.
And what a crashing disappointment. From the outset, as I read through the preliminary 'General Introduction For The Layman' I began to feel a vague unease. As I delved into the childhood, youth and middle-age of the central character Joseph Knecht I experienced - by turns - indifference, irritation and finally incredulity. Here was one of the driest, highfalutin pieces of twentieth century literature I had read for a long time: and by a man who should know better!
I won't give a detailed run-down of the plot: other reviews have done that already. But I have a few comments that I must pass on. 'The Glass Bead Game' is an imaginary biographical account of the Magister Ludi (Chief Glass Bead Game Player) Joseph Knecht. This style of writing cannot sustain genuine literary interest if it isn't supported by a credible plot. I would argue that the story of one man's rise to the summit of an intellectual utopia - and his voluntary withdrawal from it - does not sustain 400 pages of muddled intellectual musing.
The ideas and tenets of the 'Castalian' society in which The Glass Bead Game thrives are often contradictory - not to mention half-baked, watery and overstated. Hesse's use of language in this novel is of a high aesthetic standard: I can't argue against that. He writes with genious and skill. But his ultimate point is so laboured and dissected that any joy one may have received from his prose is quashed. This 'novel' (can I even call it that? It strikes me more as a confused manifesto) generalizes MASSIVE cosmic themes that cannot be adequately imparted to a reader in Hesse's chosen medium: I read through the words 'peace', 'truth', 'self' and 'divine' so many times - along with a thousand other similar ones that each have so many different meanings - that ultimately this book ceased to 'mean' anything to me at all.
Such overblown pomposity is disappointing: especially when it hides behind the screen of complex, high-flown language. The ideas behind it are not finished ones: nor do they offer any kind of satisfactory answer to any of the other questions tackled in Hesse's other - much, much better - works.
And why place Knecht's 'posthumous' writings - consisting of some immature poetry and an extra 100 pages of his supposed 'studies' - at the finish? They are utterly irrelevant and bring nothing to the work itself.
I always finish a book and hence I followed this baffling contruction to the bitter end. I almost wish I hadn't, now, as it succeeded in tarnishing my fondness for Hesse's unique intellectual touch. In this dry, de-humanised work of rhetoric it flies a mile wide of the mark.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Aug 2009 18:47:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 24 Aug 2009 18:48:42 BDT
Great review. I had a similar reaction.I had read "Steppenwolf" and expected more from this but it's so suffocatingly dry, lifeless and characterless I couldn't finish it. The humanity, that's what's had gone missing between "Steppenwolf" and "The Glass Bead Game." "Steppenwolf" is about the search, this book seems to think it has all the answers, which gives it a didactic, humourless and self-satisfied tone. Read like a biography rather than a novel, and a biography of a life totally given over from youth to the glass bead game, so nothing ever happens.

Posted on 30 Nov 2009 17:11:18 GMT
J. Morgan says:
Read it again. :-)

Posted on 21 Jul 2010 11:40:27 BDT
Last edited by the author on 21 Jul 2010 11:40:56 BDT
Cancer Party says:
The Nobel is awarded for a lifetime's work, not just one book.
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