The day has finally come!! I have finally, after much groaning, whining and butt-kicking, finished this book! That should give you an idea of my impression of these stories by Thomas Mann.
I started off just set on reading the first and main story of the compilation, “Death in Venice” but that story terminated only after 73 pages and so my frugal and perfectionist self had to finish the entire work. I really dislike starting something and then not fully completing it. It makes me feel like a cheater. Plus I may have cajoled myself into thinking that the next tale would be better, which if it had been true, would have enabled me to have breezed through the whole 400 pages in no time!
Sadly, that never happened. Let me just clarify. The first and main story, “Death is Venice” was a great read. I found myself fascinated with the inner workings of the main character Gustav von Aschenbach, a fifty-five year old celebrated German writer who travels to Venice and gets completely enamoured/obsessed with a fourteen year old Hungarian boy named Tadzio. From the moment he lays his eyes on him he is completely overwhelmed by his physical beauty, and throughout the narration compares him to a Greek sculpture and describes in detail the beauty of parts of his body. His initial appreciation of his beauty quickly turns into a disturbing obsession when he starts to plan his day around where he will be and engages in stalker behaviour. Throughout the entire story he never once approaches him, touches him or interacts with Tadzio, keeping his orgiastic Dionysian dreams to himself. Yet, his world and time is completely consumed by this human. I don’t want to give much more away, but that is the premise of the story. Although disturbing from one end, it is also fascinating to see the man completed crumble and alter his life just because of this young adolescent doesn’t give him more than a quick smile. There is very little dialogue and interactions, rather it focuses in on Aschenbach’s obsession, thought process and personal struggle. This was truly a fascinating read.
The other stories were not so much. Often he gives excessive details about the minute of things. His “Man and His Dog” is a superb example of this. He describes the dog’s entire life in detail; his mannerisms, behaviour, characteristics, confirmation, etc. To the point where any idea of plot disappears and it begins to read like a personal journal entry. There is rarely a purpose to his long detailed descriptions and frequently I found myself having to re-read long paragraphs simply because I zoned out and became disengaged.
The other frustrating element was that the stories often started off as engaging but then turned mundane a few pages later. They started off with a lot of promise, and then that was overshadowed by excessive, pointless details about every aspect of a character’s behaviour and past. Unlike in the “Death in Venice”, most of his stories have more than two characters, so the descriptions get quickly tiring. I understand character development is important, but so is having a point to your story. Frequently, that was very ambiguous.
Having said all that, his diction is out of this world. Very Victorian, in his choice of vocabulary, yet also had that modernist sentiment beginning to sprout (Nietzsche’s philosophy and Freud’s theories in psychology being the main elements here). He has a rich vocabulary to say the least and that made me really pleased. There is nothing like capturing the perfect moment with a mere few strong and rich terms. Makes me all giddy!
Just a reminder, this is my impression of this book. I completely accept and understand that some people enjoy reading these types of stories, so please refrain from badgering me about my opinion. This is my sole opinion of this work, and I understand and accept that others may have another opinion. That’s all 🙂
Verdict: Definitely read “Death in Venice” because I really enjoyed that story. It’s only 70+ pages so it’s a quick read and the characters are really interesting. He touches on a topic similarly covered in Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita. The other stories maybe just browse through one/two of them and if they don’t strike your fancy I wouldn’t bother with the rest.
Was there a book you have read that you didn’t engage with well? Why do you think that was? Leave a comment below, I am very interested in hearing your experiences 🙂