A few weeks ago, I was reading comments on a post of Susan Hill's regarding books one can't finish. Like Susan, I have such a list; sometimes it seems longer than the list of books I've read. And despite making silly New Years' Resolutions like 'I'll read everything I start this year', usually there is still snow on the ground before I start appending 'except this one...or this one' to my resolution. Before the first daffodils bloom, my unkeepable promise is long forgotten.
The problem with abandoned books, at least for me, is that I typically abandon the author as well. So, when I read The Magic Mountain on Susan's list I thought, 'Me too!' Mann makes me shudder. But, wait, she liked Death in Venice? In fact, she followed up to my comment telling me to not to be kept away from a 'clean and clear' masterpiece.
So, in one of those book serendipity moments, while trying to avoid an unruly, whinny child dripping cola from a sippy cup, I detoured through the bargin bin tables at B&N recently. My intent to only buy the book I had come for quickly faded as I spied a lone copy of Death in Venice. Short. Novella. $4.95. Why not? A few minutes later, it was mine!
And I couldn't stay away from it. If I had 5 minutes, I read a page or two, lingering over each page, savoring every word. For a week or so, I would grab it out of my bag at traffic lights to re-read passages. I can't remember reading anything that captures so perfectly the elation and foolishness of an infatuation than Mann does in this slim book. And that is not all: the descriptions of Venice and the sea, the spell of wanderlust Aschenbach falls under in the first few pages, the portrayal of the bureaucratic officials denying the presence of disease, the suspicions of the Aschenbach, his inability to leave even as he fears the epidemic because it will remove him from the presence of the unattainable object of his affection, the lingering doom of death and disease ... and unrequited love. It's all in this thin book. A clean & clear masterpiece, indeed!
How sad it would have been if I had always left Mann on my untouchables list. I may never reconsider The Magic Mountain again, but I may read Buddenbrooks.
The edition I read, published in 2004, is a new translation by Michael Henry Heim, with an introduction by Michael Cunningham. Cunningham has some interesting things to say about translations. I'll post at another time on his comments.