Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan's Reviews > Homo Faber

Homo Faber by Max Frisch
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Jun 26, 12

bookshelves: reviews, read-2011, reviews-5-stars
Read from April 20 to 22, 2011, read count: 2

April 20, 2011:

I bought this book in 1979 and read it sometime in the early 80's.

It's only a couple of hundred pages, so when Praj asked me to review it, I thought, hey, why not re-read it (even though I very rarely re-read books).

April 22, 2011:

Re-reading this novel has been a total revelation.

Firstly, I had previously rated it four stars from memory. Now I have upgraded it to five stars.

It's not just good, it's great, one of the best books I've read.

Secondly, I haven't seen the Volker Schlonforff film "Voyager", which is based on the novel.

If it is anywhere near as good as the book, I will seek out the film with a passion.

About the Right Length

I have read numerous books that were anywhere in length between 300 and 1,000 pages long.

However, there is something in me that feels that 200 pages is just the right length.

In the early days of the internet (when grazing seemed to have superseded dining), I thought everybody would head in this direction, and that the days of the epic were over.

I was clearly wrong, but I still feel that, if an author has a 600 page book in them, they should write three 200 page novels (or at most two 300 page novels).

Hit the ground running, say what you want to say, don't subject us to the risk of boredom, finish it and move onto the next novel.

It's ironic that I'm about to start "The Pale King".
But "Homo Faber" does just this.

Some Short, Sharp Examples

I have read a few novels that more or less live up to my prescription and are perfect as well.

Camus' "The Stranger" is one.

Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" is another.

Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness".

Nabokov's "Lolita".

"Tourmaline" by Randolph Stow.

To these great novels, I would now add "Homo Faber".

Towards Crystalline Perfection

Given the relatively small canvas, what matters to me is the crystalline perfection of the prose.

Not a word wasted, not a word that I would change.

Circumnavigating the Plot

I don't think it is fair to you to summarise or hint at the plot.

It is not a detailed or hyperactive plot.

The narrator (Walter Faber) finds himself in a number of related predicaments that conspire to reach a resolution, almost despite Faber's reluctance or inability to seize the initiative and direct or change the course of his life.

In retrospect, each predicament is an existentialist challenge to the certainty of his worldview and the way he (and we) live our lives.

Walter's Tanned and Toned

Part of the novel's appeal is the tone that derives from the unlikely character of Walter.

He is no hero, but neither is he an anti-hero.

He is a thin, wiry, 1950's Swiss engineer, a technologist, a believer in the reign of rationality over sentiment.

The Age of Aquarius isn't even on the horizon.

The tale is by him as well as about him.

His tone is dry and clinical, like an engineer's report.

Initially, he is world-weary, detached, disengaged, sarcastic, resigned.

You laugh at his interaction with the world, but it's not in your face comic farce per se, it's a serious farce scaling its way up to an immodest tragedy.

He's hanging on in quiet desperation (not just the English way, but the Swiss way as well).

Then things start to happen to him, some good, some bad.

Bit by bit, he becomes more engaged, more interactive, more hopeful.

Only to experience the greatest sadness I can conceive of.

Walter's Women

It's not giving anything away to say that Walter's plight revolves around the women in his life.

Given the relative absence of women friends, he is typical of many men in that he can only relate to a woman in one of three ways: in their capacity as mother, lover/wife or daughter.

This not only shapes the relationships in his life, it shapes him and the women as well.

The Feel, the Craft, the Finish

The novel starts dry, but builds quietly and confidently towards its end.

Max Frisch is a master of his craft.

An architect himself, Frisch's novel is immaculately conceived, flawlessly constructed and consummately delivered.

On time, on budget.

Ultimately, it defines the existentialist plight with both a rational and an emotional sensibility.

I realise that I haven't given you much to go on but my enthusiasm, but if you can find a copy, I guarantee that you will be hooked from the first sentence and you won't be able to stop.

Many thanks to Praj for prompting me to revisit the book and re-discover a classic of the second half of the last century.



P.S. Volker Schlöndorff Discusses His Film "Voyager [Homo Faber]" in 2011

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb52Ii...
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Reading Progress

04/20/2011 page 30
13.0% "I bought this book in 1979 and read it sometime in the early 80's. It's only a couple of hundred pages, so when Praj asked me to review it, I thought, hey, why not re-read it (even though I very rarely re-read books). My recollection is it has an existentialist theme, but when I started reading it 20 minutes ago, it took off like a jet plane (which is ironic, because that's what the first chapter is about) and the pa"
04/20/2011 page 30
13.0% "My recollection is it has an existentialist theme, but when I started reading it 20 minutes ago, it took off like a jet plane (which is ironic, because that's what the first chapter is about) and the pace hasn't let up. So at this early stage, I'm thinking it's an existentialist thriller with a weird sarcastic Swiss sense of humour."
04/20/2011 page 30
13.0% "My recollection is that the novel has an existentialist theme, but when I started reading it 20 minutes ago, it took off like a jet plane (which is ironic, because that's what the first chapter is about) and the pace hasn't let up. So at this early stage, I'm thinking it's an existentialist thriller with a weird sarcastic Swiss sense of humour."

Comments (showing 1-26 of 26) (26 new)

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message 1: by Praj (last edited Apr 19, 2011 02:19AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Praj If you can, a review, please.


message 2: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan Praj wrote: "If you can, a review, please."

This was a very long time ago.
I might try to whip something up over easter.
I have a favour to ask of you, but I will send you a message.


Praj Thanks, for a wonderful review.


message 4: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant well done Praj, well done Ian - I never heard of Max Frisch, so now I have.


message 5: by Ian (last edited May 17, 2011 04:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan Paul, you must read Praj's review as well.
I think she set me up, she must have been holding her usual trump card in her hand.


notgettingenough Paul wrote: "well done Praj, well done Ian - I never heard of Max Frisch, so now I have."

Sigh. I've been giving him 5 stars for 20 years. Paul, it isn't a news flash, but do read him.


message 7: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant Whoever said I was well-read? I listen and learn like a small timid bespectacled bunny.


message 8: by Ian (last edited Sep 05, 2011 03:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan I am a bit embarrassed that I didn't think any more deeply about the title "Homo Faber".

The word "Faber" derives from the Latin term for work or making things.

The blind Roman consul Appius Claudius Caecus originally said, “Homo faber suae quisque fortunae” ("Each man is maker/smith/artisan of his own fortune").

"Tuae ipsius fortunae faber es"[ “You are the maker of your own fate”].

The following is a discussion from this page:

http://www.homodiscens.com/home/embod...

In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt (1958: 9) characterizes a “vita activa” comprising “three fundamental human activities: labor, work and action.”

For Arendt “animal laborans” is the activity which corresponds:

"to the biological process of the human body, whose spontaneous growth, metabolism, and eventual decay are bound to the vital necessities produced and fed into the life process by labor."

"Homo faber" is the work of our hands which corresponds

"to the unnaturalness of human existence, which is not imbedded in, and whose mortality is not compensated by, the species’ ever-recurring life cycle. Work provides an “artificial” world of things, distinctly differently from all natural surroundings… Work and its product, the human artifact, bestow a measure of permanence and durability upon the futility of mortal life and the fleeting character of human time."

Hannah Arendt places the power to act at the core of the human condition.

She proposes (1958: 157) that a life without speech or action “is literally dead to the world, it has ceased to be a human life because it is no longer lived among men.”

For Arendt (1958: 9) action is:

"the only activity that goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter, corresponds to the human condition of plurality, to the fact that men, not Man, live on the earth and inhabit the world."

Arendt, Hannah (1958) The Human Condition. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.


Thanks to Kaworu for pointing me in this direction.


message 9: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan See also the discussion in section 4 of this article:

http://www.iep.utm.edu/arendt/


message 10: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye As a 20 something young woman I found Walter utterly boring and his relationships pitiful. I did dutifuly finish this book because I intuited there was something brilliant about it, but I just didnt care enough.

You're review makes clear to me the futility of reading a book or an author before you actually ready for it. But how can you know beforehand ?

I will check Prajs review too, and look forward to reading again bringing more to the table.


message 11: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant That is extremely true - you can read books too soon, and you can also go right past the age when you should have read particular books into an age when they will no longer work for you. But I have an irrational belief that books seek you out, not the other way round, and each of them adds to the giant unfolding jigsaw that is you yourself. Even the bad ones.


message 12: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan Books are like relationships - sometimes you try too hard, sometimes you don't try hard enough, sometimes the timing's wrong and sometimes, as Paul added, it's nice to be found by one you weren't looking for.


message 13: by Paul (new)

Paul Bryant does that make goodreads the craigslist for books?


message 14: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan My library has eyes only for me.


Lotus A Amazing review. One of my favourite novels.


message 16: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan Lottie wrote: "Amazing review. One of my favourite novels."

Sorry, Lottie, I just saw your comment. I've added an interview with Volker Schlondorrf about his film of the novel.


message 17: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan Bird Brian wrote: "This is quite an endorsement, to be included with the rarefied likes of Lolita on your list of favorites. I will add it to my "to-read" list."

Thanks, Brian, you should re-read Praj's review. Where is she, by the way? I miss her, especially now that erotica is everywhere.


message 18: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M I do dig the 200 pagers. They make for a nice 'one-sit' read which can be a great deal of fun.


message 19: by Ali (last edited Jun 26, 2012 01:55AM) (new) - added it

Ali The art of the 200-pager is underestimated and, for me, highly enjoyable, which is why I'll be aiming to read more of them after my current long projects. Novellas are nice, short stories even nicer, and sure, I can enjoy a good three to four hundred page book in between all that. But two to three hundred pagers straddle the line between "quickly read novella" and "will require more than one sitting", and can usually be read in one go, which can, if the book is good, make them some of the most memorable reading experiences I've had.
Luckily, in the vast supply of my Max Frisch books, all three of them, I managed, with diligent searching and muted swears because I'm Not Stiller fell on my head, to find Homo Faber, which has been added to my shelves.


message 20: by Ian (last edited Jun 26, 2012 02:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan This review only popped up again, because I've been searching for the film and added the interview with its director.

Coincidentally, I've just finished "Cosmopolis", 209 pages and also filmed.

I'm also ready for a few shorties, though I haven't decided on my next big project yet.


message 21: by Ali (last edited Jun 26, 2012 03:41AM) (new) - added it

Ali Mine will be Sergio de la Pava's A naked Singularity. I've been reading more or less nonstop for the past day so that I can finish all my books that I'm not reading for groups, and get a decent way through my 912-page short story collection, and then I'm going to read it. It's almost 700 pages, but if reviews are to be believed, those pages will fly by. This appears to be the next exciting event in the literary world, because almost everyone who has read it loves it, and I'd like to get in on it while it remains relatively unknown, as far as books go, and while everyone still cares. It feels interesting to be a part of the big, exciting literary event of the moment in the circles of Goodreads I show up in. I wasn't born for the furor surrounding The Recognitions or Gravity's Rainbow, I barely spoke English and didn't read books when David Foster Wallace and William Gass released their mammoth, highly anticipated projects in the mid-90'S, and wasn't reading the types of things I do now when Adam Levin released The Instructions in 2010, so by the time I found out about these books, they had already been discussed and dissected by most people who would be interested in them, with notable exceptions, you included, and the hubbub surrounding their release was over. But now, I'm getting in on ANS while the excitement is still brewing, while discussion is constantly going on because after four years in obscurity it has been released by the University of Chicago Press and thus is more easily gotten, while all of my friends are reading it and discovering how great it is. I'm actually early for the party for once, is what I'm saying. I don't know why I like that feeling, maybe it's a sense of community thing where, rather than discovering a great book alone after everyone else has done it, I and those around me are discovering it together and there's a rudimentary bond going on, or at least I feel like there is one, even though that may not necessarily be the case, and because I'm a social animal like everyone else, that bond, when contrasted with my usual complete lack of contact with other people, is enjoyable to me. I'm not sure. All I know is that whenever I see another enthusiastic status update or review about how everyone should read ANS right now because it is the best novel written in the past fifteen years, I feel a jolt of excitement about my upcoming reading of the book in the next week or so.

Why do I get the feeling that the above message is utterly incomprehensible to everyone except me?


message 22: by Stephen M (new)

Stephen M I just put ANS on hold at the library.


message 23: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan Ali wrote: "I wasn't born for the furor surrounding The Recognitions or Gravity's Rainbow."

Ali, these books will wait patiently for you to be ready, like they waited for me and others before you.


message 24: by Magdelanye (new) - added it

Magdelanye Ian wrote: "Books are like relationships - sometimes you try too hard, sometimes you don't try hard enough, sometimes the timing's wrong and sometimes, as Paul added, it's nice to be found by one you weren't looking for..."
well I sure wasn't looking for another title for the tbr ANS now #523

There is nothing to top the rush on finding quite serendipidously directed by no hype,a book that turns out to be a masterpiece. Those of us who haunted libraries in our formative years got to discover books outside the curriculum and form a special bond with them as "our" discovery (say have you heard of this guy Dostoevsky?) ;->

@Ali...you might enjoy short stories by
Michael Crummey, Greg Hollingsheadand Charles Johnson
RE message 24...good advice Ian,I'll take it myself!


Shane James Bordas A wonderful book, many thanks for the link to the Schlöndorff interview!


message 26: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Cantankeroo-Gazan Thanks, Shane. Let me know if you review it.


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