The Lost Honour, unlike many Nobel prize winning books, is famous because (a) it was promptly made into a successful film in 1975 (Die verlorene EhreThe Lost Honour, unlike many Nobel prize winning books, is famous because (a) it was promptly made into a successful film in 1975 (Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum oder) and then a tele movie in English for people who can’t cope with viewing foreign film; and (b) it’s about a woman who’s life is ruined by the tabloid press, in this story called The News but apparently modelled on the actual German Bild-Zeitung. It amuses me that people love to vilify the tabloid press, because its enduring success is a simple matter of the market: the tabloid press does what it does because lots of people buy their product, scurrilous as it is. If the mass indignation about tabloid press excesses were genuine, there would be no market for the loathsome product. If Diana’s death didn’t kill the tabloids, nothing will…
Anyway, as soon as I started reading The Lost Honour, I recognised it as an influence on Richard Flanagan’s The Unknown Terrorist. It has the same themes of panic about terrorism resulting in suspicion that turns out to be absurd; unreasonable and unethical police behaviour; and an intrusive press that causes grave trouble for an innocent person. But Böll’s style is more detached: events are reported and analysed calmly and logically as if no one should be surprised that things turned out this way. It’s also the antithesis of the crime genre because Böll tells us who did what right at the very beginning, deconstructing events from every angle to make his point. The free press can in some circumstances be just as dangerous for the individual as a censored one.
The story is set during Carnival, a tradition in many European countries where restraint is thrown to the winds for a short period of time and people go about in costumes or masks to hide their identity. Katharina, a prudent, perhaps prudish young woman of little education but exemplary habits, uncharacteristically goes to a dance, and is rushed off her feet by one Ludwig Götten. They go home to her place, where in the morning the police turn up because they have had Götten under surveillance because he’s a gangster. But he’s shot through overnight, and Katharina is taken off for gruelling interviews that pry into her private life because the police don’t believe that this is a sudden, innocent liaison. And before long The News has labelled her a gangster’s moll and all kinds of misery is set in train. The lawyer for whom she works as a housemaid comes under suspicion, and his wife is labelled a Communist. All kinds of foul accusations are made, and Katharina is under siege in the apartment she has slaved for years to buy. A home now irreparably ‘stained and soiled’ by events.
I've written a review of this for my blog but haven't published it yet. It's scheduled for August 2012. Contact me to remind me to link it here if I fI've written a review of this for my blog but haven't published it yet. It's scheduled for August 2012. Contact me to remind me to link it here if I forget to do it. ...more
Well, I’ve finally finished The Magic Mountain. I’ve been reading it for ages, about 70 pages a week, along with a group at GoodReads. It’s an amazingWell, I’ve finally finished The Magic Mountain. I’ve been reading it for ages, about 70 pages a week, along with a group at GoodReads. It’s an amazing book.
The plot is actually quite simple. A young man, Hans Castorp, goes to visit his cousin Joachim in an exclusive TB sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, but is diagnosed with the disease himself and ends up staying there for seven years. The sanatorium is a microcosm of European society just before The Great War – which provides Mann with the opportunity to explore an astonishing range of philosophical issues. The novel is often satiric and witty, it bristles with ironies, and there are symbols lurking everywhere. It’s the kind of book you could read many times and still discover something new each time you read it.
But I have only read it once, so I must leave the sophisticated analysis to those who have explored it in more depth. I have taken reams of notes in my journal but (especially when I look at the erudite commentary at one of the GoodReads groups), I feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of this great classic work.
Some themes interested me more than others: I especially liked the meditations on time. When Hans arrives at the sanatorium he finds his first day interminable and is puzzled by his cousin’s reluctance to acknowledge the duration of his stay. Joachim, a young man whose military career is on hold because of his illness, is otherwise direct and straightforward, but he responds to any suggestions that Hans will be leaving after three weeks with enigmatic remarks that his stay will inevitably be longer. His original plans for a short stay have morphed into months and he has entered into a world where long periods of time suspended in a sort of netherworld, have become normal.
Joachim looks healthy but must now stay a further six months. Hans is alarmed by the calm acceptance of this long suspension of time: his cousin is isolated from normal life, his family and friends, and his promising career. We don’t have that much time in life he cries, but Joachim is sanguine: he has become institutionalised already and he accepts the word of his doctors as law. Three weeks are the same as a day to them he says, and it is the same to him too. He has drifted into a life where one day merges into another and the months pass by without anyone noticing. Before long Hans too will dispose of calendars, and eventually not bother to have his watch repaired because the passing of time means nothing.
I was fascinated by Mann’s digression about space having the same effect as time. Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, that is, when we travel to somewhere where we are free from relationships, in a free and pristine state, we forget about responsibilities. Time, they say, is water from the River Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink, and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly. (p.4) This ‘holiday effect’ is what lures us into losing all sense of days passing, an effect exacerbated in the jet age when we travel vast distances across space by plane, a phenomenon unknown to Mann.
This is one of the most poignant books I’ve ever read, and it’s intensely thought-provoking. It’s also another example of Text Publishing having the cThis is one of the most poignant books I’ve ever read, and it’s intensely thought-provoking. It’s also another example of Text Publishing having the courage to generate debate about contentious issues…
An Exclusive Love is a memoir of the author’s grandparents, Hungarian Jews who took their own lives in Copenhagen in 1991. He was 82, and dying; she was only 71, and in good health. Together they had survived the horrors of the Holocaust, and escaped Budapest during the 1956 uprising against the oppressive Communist regime; but they could not envisage separation from one another and so when his illness became terminal they ended their lives together.
It seems logical, perhaps even romantic, but like all suicides, it leaves the remaining loved ones bereft. For some families left behind, it is a torment not to know why, and even though the ‘reason’ for her grandparents’ action seems evident, this book is an attempt by Adorján to make sense of what happened. She can only tell their story in fragments because she can’t find out much about them, and she creatively imagines their last day together. The book is written with empathy and affection for them, but it seems to me that the author wrote it in an attempt to reconcile herself about what happened and to ease her troubled mind.
**spoiler alert** Hesse says in his introduction that this is the most misunderstood of his works and I can understand why. It seems to be a first per**spoiler alert** Hesse says in his introduction that this is the most misunderstood of his works and I can understand why. It seems to be a first person narration of a person with a mental disorder - maybe schizophrenic or manybe chronic depression - but whatever it was, I got tired of it before long.
The Steppenwolf is a man who feels himself to be half man, half wolf, and he is torn between satisfying his 'base' desires (exemplified by sex, dancing, jazz and generally the sort of stuff that most people enjoy but he despises himself for it) and satisfying his intellectual desires (Goethe, Mozart, solitariness and rejecting bourgeois taste).
He meets a strannge girl who seems to know what's good for him, but Hermoine is also a Herman, and a procuress to boot. She lines up another girl for him, not to mention Pablo the jazz muso.
I know, I know, all this is a metaphor for the crisis in Hesse's own persona, but at the end of the day, it just didn't work for me. At least it was short.