Keith Michael's Reviews > The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke
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's review
Nov 14, 2010

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Read from October 19 to November 14, 2010

i didn't realize there were notes in the back, and i certainly didn't approach it with the right mind set. that said, it's difficult not to appreciate the ebullient misery, delicacy and rare beauty of its style.

it must have been one of those early mornings that sometimes appear in July - fresh, rested hours in which spontaneous events are happening everywhere. Out of a million small irrepressible movements a mosaic of life is created, utterly convincing in its reality...

i wish i could say that Rilke's overall mosaic is as convincing as his rare summer morning, but it's too sacred. reality is precious, yes, but i'm unaccustomed to it being whispered about so forcefully. Malte's suprasensitive vision bobbles wildly like an agitated seismograph, but it never makes a graceful return to baseline. the novel becomes a series of images like desserts, each one as rich as the last, until one begins to question the intentions of the host.

although i didn't think the novel was sustaining in any conventional way, his ennobling descriptions of the poor and his humility are touching to read. the vignettes with the poor man in the fine clothes and the woman with the shriveled arm are about the most honorable, humanistic passages i've ever read.

The colors are meaningless, of course, and it's petty of me to remember them. I just want to say that on him they were like the softest down on a bird's breast. He himself didn't get any pleasure from them, and who among all these people (I looked around me) could have thought that this finery was meant for them?... Malte has an epiphany: My God, I thought with sudden vehemence, so you really are. This, then, is what tastes good to you; this is what gives you pleasure. That we should learn to endure everything and never judge. What things are filled with gravity? What things with grace? Only you know. When winter comes again and I need a new coat - grant that I may wear it like that, for as long as it is new.

passages like this become almost Biblical. parables and prayers and bald mystical language swirl together to create something truly fascinating to read.

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