This a very long trilogy set in Germany in the periods 1890s, pre-WW1 1903 and WW1 end. It was written around the early 1930s. Each story has a different style; the first two looked like standard linear prose and the third (twice as long as the other two) was mixed episodic, parallel stories. The writing is highly regarded and akin with Mann's Magic Mountain or similar.
The first book is about upper class Joachim von Pasenow who fancies a vibrant and characterful Czech prostitute Ruzena. But his family have earmarked his social equal Elisabeth von Baddensen for marriage. Joachim is in the army but maintains close links to a scheming rich friend, ex-military Eduard. I think the thrust of the story were the usual themes of true desires and changing values (in this case orchestrated by Eduard).
The second book is about a middleclass accountant August Esch who aspires for a new life in America. He associates with Martin Geyring and (seemingly in the mode of a Monty Python sketch, but rather than `lion taming') starts a new life as a theatre production manager with women's wrestling. He fancies Frau Hentjen and hopes to marry her (and use her money for investment).
The third book sees a deserter called Huguenau arrive in town and he decides the local newpaper, run by Esch, is ripe for a take-over. Esch is part of a local religious group with the local Major. There are parallel stories about a Salvation Army cadet. Joachim makes an appearance; and there is a war wounded soldier Jaretki and his hospital care. The drama descends on the town as the war comes to an end.
I thought I'd really enjoy this writer and these stories but, much like Magic Mountain, each story started to drag on. It was only really the last 10% of each story when it felt like it was actually going any where. Much like the characters "sleepwalking" into their lives - I've woken up after reading these stories, as if from a sleepwalk, and remember little of the tales.
There was a very erudite prose section called "The Disintegration of Values", which if I had been bothered to really analyse I'm sure would have got under the skin of the world's values in the presence of war - but some how I had already given up on the text by then.
Some quotes: "We all are in conventional feeling. But feelings are inert, and that's why they're so cruel. The world is ruled by the inertia of feeling"
"Even the devil was still subject to the will of God"
"The man who from afar off yearns for his wife or merely for the home of his childhood has begun his sleepwalking"
"In the rushing train only the future is real, for every moment is given to a different place"
Only three stars because, though it is doubtless well written, it really did become a struggle to finish.
The Sleepwalkers is a truly astounding book, a trilogy that glides with elegant, swanlike power between styles and milieus as its author strives to create a genuine work of art, both delving deep into the psyches of his characters and, at the same time, building a critique of the process of destruction of values which found its apotheosis in the First World War. Each section of the trilogy follows a different character at a different time. First we meet Joachim von Pasenow, the priggish, innocent, aristocrat and officer who finds security only in his uniform as he vacillates between his prostitute mistress and the prospect of a respectable, loveless union with the neighbour he has been destined to marry almost since birth. Next, the novel drops the realist style of its first section and shifts into a more expressionistic mode as it comes to 1903 and the affairs of the stolid, quondam-accountant August Esch, a man constantly seeking to balance out wrongs and rights in the great accounting book of life. Lastly, Broch adopts a range of styles - journalistic prose, poetry, scenes rendered as extracts from plays - as he arrives at 1918 and brings both Esch and Pasenow into contact with the deserter Hugenau, a man for whom desertion of anything but the laws of commercial self-interest is no sin. Here the author also intertwines a tale of doomed love and an essay on the theme of the whole novel - the disintegration of values. Throughout these changes of scene, character and style, Broch maintains our interest with precise, yet fluid prose and with little bombs of plot, character or simple thought, often beautifully concealed at the end of a chapter where they will cause the reader to look at everything just read in a wholly new light. In a word, wonderful.
broch excels in every department - storytelling, characterisation, sense of period and, of course, intellectual rigour. I can not understand why this book is not more widely known. whwn is kindle going to make available Broch's 'Death of Virgil'?