Jun 24, 11
Read from June 07 to 24, 2011
Dry, thoroughly expository prose mars what is the sometimes brilliant bildungsroman of Adrian Leverkuhn, a character I admire and sometimes wish to identify with (I have the arrogance and aloofness down, not so much the renowned composer part). Much of the book is superb writing about art and music, some of it when it is dry is still intellectually engaging, but parts of it are a slog.
I remain conflicted on how much I like the idea of a person becoming an allegory for an entire nation. The nation-as-entity thing seems reductive, and disregards the diversity of psyches within that nation. Germany as a single psyche is a little too macro for me, and making a very well-drawn, interesting character serve more as an analogy to Germany's history is sometimes effective, but made me feel like more can be done. The allegory device dates the material somewhat, and adds an occasionally unwanted component to an otherwise excellent story about the psychology of a great artist. On one hand, I think I'd like just the Adrian story more; on the other hand, the juxtaposition between the two arcs is well-executed, and Mann's urgency in rectifying Germany's despairing reputation is effective AND affecting.
Also, Thomas Mann is very 'tell-heavy,' not 'show-heavy.' I don't condemn writers outright for telling instead of showing (your creative writing teacher's a shitty writer, whereas Thomas Mann is not), but here it does get tiresome. Even for me, who went into it with a love of music theory, boring conversations about nihilism, and WWII history. I was so giddy going in, and for good reason. But despite the treasure trove of nerd-dom, there's a little bit of dull. Definitely not for everyone (shy away if you enjoy none of the aforementioned things), and probably much better in retrospect.