Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Magic Mountain again - skiing

 
published 1924


 
Magic Mountain skiing 2
 


And so one day during his second winter up here, Hans Castorp decided he would buy skis and learn how to use them – well enough at least for his practical purposes. He was no athlete, had never been interested in sports, did not pretend he was, the way many Berghof guests did – the ladies in particular, who decked themselves out in sporty outfits to match the spirit of the place. Hermine Kleefeld, for example – although her lips and the tip of her nose were blue from shallow breathing – loved to appear at lunch in woollen trousers

Hans Castorp discovered that you quickly learn a skill if you truly need to. He made no pretence of becoming a virtuoso. What he required to know he learned in a few days, without overheating or having to fight for breath. He worked hard at keeping his feet nicely parallel… He gradually increased the range of his activities.
The wintry mountains were beautiful – not in a gentle, benign way, but beautiful like the wild North Sea under a strong west wind. They awakened the same sense of awe – but there was no thunder, only a deathly silence.



Magic Mountain skiing 4


commentary: Another entry on this book, a major reading project for the beginning of 2017

The description of skiing is wonderful – there is quite a lot more of it, and it is highly recommended. And I am a person with zero interest in the sport as a general rule. But the writing is marvellous.

The long days at the TB sanatorium alternate with these bright moments when the patients get out or do something different. There are also expeditions to see skating and bobsled races, all equally beautifully described. The skating reminded me of this picture, which I used for a recent blogpost on Ian Fleming’s OHMSS:

Magic Mountain skiing 3


The setup of the book – that Hans Castorp arrives to visit another patient and ends up staying at the sanatorium for seven years – is strange and discomfiting. There is a terrible inevitability about it, even though it simultaneously seems ridiculous. It’s almost surreal, like a film by Bunuel or Resnais.

There are endless characters who may be only in the book for a few pages, and some lovely conversations and recognizable descriptions. Hans Castorp has a crush on a Russian lady, and finds he shares his passion with an older spinster schoolteacher, who says of the love object:
Yes, she’s a darling woman, a spoiled creature, that’s why she’s so careless. We all love people like that, whether we want to or not, because when they annoy us with their carelessness, the annoyance becomes just one more reason for being fond of them
- and you do know what she means, it is recognizable.

It is a long book, and it is very difficult to try to work out what Mann is intending by it. As I was reading it I was left with two thoughts. First, how dare he write this incredibly long book, full of difficult passages and strange conversations, and philosophical discussions, and endless talk of the treatments for the patients - how can he expect the reader to plough through all this?  And secondly, yes it really is a phenomenal work, a masterpiece, and it makes its own rules,and is totally worth reading.

Skiing fashion drawing from NYPL.

The second picture shows a European sanatorium of the era.

Skaters: the Winter Skating Rink by Konstantin Somov, from the Athenaeum website.
















14 comments:

  1. This is a different side of this novel, Moira. Thanks for sharing it. Interesting how looking at different aspects of a book gives one a very different perspective on it. The writing seems inviting, too. And I know just what Mann meant in his description of the Russian woman. I know people like that. Thanks for the different view on this.

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    1. Thanks Margot - he was such a talented writer, he could switch styles so easily, going from details of sanatorium life, to the magical descriptions of outdoors. And yes, such good characters.

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  2. Very interested in your comments, Moira - especially your ambivalence! There has to be a right time for reading a book - and this is not for me at the moment. Maybe one day . . .

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    1. No. It has to be the right moment. I have been waiting to read it for years, and one day the time was just right...

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  3. Lovely images in this post, Moira. I find it hard to reconcile the active sports with TB, but I am sure it fits within the story. Looking up the number of pages (again) on Goodreads I saw a review that essentially said what you did, that the book was maddening at times but very worth it. If it were not so long I would give it a try.

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    1. Yes, it is a commitment. I set myself to read so many pages a day, and read other books when I'd finished my quota for the day! That worked for me. But so many other books are also must-reads.

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  4. I really will get round to reading this Moira, I really will ... One day :)

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    1. I will probably do a couple more entries on it. If you read them all you can convince yourself you've more or less read it...

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  5. Hmmm. I don't think this book is my cup of tea. However, Thomas Mann was a favorite author of my father's and The Magic Mountain was one of the books he liked best. I didn't know why, but if it deals with ideas, that would be a reason.

    My father was a voracious reader and an idea person. He read philosophy going back to the Greeks and then contemporary philosophers.

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    1. It sounds as if it was the ideal book for your father. I like Thomas Mann very much, but I liked Buddenbrooks better than this one.

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  6. I tried to read Buddenbrooks but couldn't. A friend who reads German told me the language was older and difficult than nowadays and that the translation was equally complex. So I dropped it. My aging brain had limitations, I guess.

    Just breathlessly awaiting Tana French's next book whenever that is and Fred Vargas' and Kati Hiekkapelto and Eva Dolan's new one. I'll get my tea and chocolate and tune out the craziness going on over here. Makes watching TV news difficult. I yearn back to the calm, reasoned days of the Obamas, all of them, a functional president and family.

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    1. That's so interesting about Buddenbrooks, I didn't know that. Mann had a very long writing career, it's always surprising to look at his first and last books.
      Sometimes we just need an author we know we will love...

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  7. Well, Mann wrote from 1893 to 1953, a long career, I'd say.
    He wrote Buddenbrooks in 1901.

    In reading the Wikipedia entry (just a superficial glance), he was very anti-Nazi, spoke and wrote against the Nazis starting during the 1930s. His family was in Switzerland during a dangerous point in the 1930s and did not move back to Germany. Then he came to the U.S.

    The anti-Nazi writings and speeches would have attracted my father, in addition to the excellent writing. Also, he veered toward socialism, another asset for my father.

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    1. He was a good-hearted man, I would say from his books. I think the poet WH Auden married his daughter Erika to help get her out of Germany.

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