Two of my major reads of the past six months were Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. I knew very little about either going in, and was surprised to find they have similarities beyond the obvious (long, difficult, written by dead white dudes.) Both stories are written from the perspective of a young, naive male protagonist on the fringes of society. Both young men have a complicated relationship with a beautiful, mysterious, and morally suspect young woman. And of course, no one lives happily ever after.
Months after finishing these books, I’m still thinking about those mysterious women. They are mysterious because we never hear their side. They come and go from the story as needed, and with little or no explanation as to where they’ve been. They are both notably absent from large sections of the story.
Were these characters merely there to move the plot along? To help the hero reach his goal? To personify the usual madonna/whore view of women? Remember, both books were written in the 1800s. Feminism wasn’t really a thing.
Whatever the authors’ intentions, they left me wanting more. In particular, I want to know what happened to The Magic Mountain’s Clavdia between leaving the mountain and returning as the mistress of the equally eccentric and mysterious Mynheer Peeperkorn. She`s married, too, so presumably she`s juggling a husband in addition to her lover(s).
Oh god. I just realized this is probably how fan fiction started. Well, that, and the need to make various characters have sex with each other. Don’t worry, I have neither the time nor the inclination to write Magic Mountain fan fiction. Can you imagine?
Is there a character who left you wanting more? Have you ever wished a book was written from another character’s perspective? Have I just rationalized the existence of fan fiction?
PS: While Google image searching for an “invisible woman” picture, I discovered that a movie about Charles Dickens’ secret mistress will be released in 2013. A post about literary movies is coming soon!
The Idiot is #861 on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
First things first. I know that I never post regularly, but this time I have an excuse. An adorable excuse!
With my first son, I didn’t read one word (other than baby books, which, yuck, that’s a whole other post) from about eight months pregnant to six months post partum. I also suffered from a severe case of mom brain. I used to think the whole baby brain/mom brain concept was sexist, but having experienced it, I can say that it’s true – pregnancy and child birth makes you dumber. That’s why I was so determined to reach 100 books, and to make #100 a doozy, before baby #2. I was afraid that this time, it would be worse. I might never read from the list again. I might have to start reading chick lit. Or The Hunger Games. Or 50 Shades of Grey. *shudder*
After triumphing over The Magic Mountain, I put the list aside, and ended up reading some great books (Half Blood Blues, Slammerkin, The Lover’s Dictionary) and some so-so books (The Virgin Cure, The Happiness Hypothesis, Juliet Naked, The Help). (Psst: Hover over titles for mini-reviews.) All this while in the end stages of pregnancy or with a very demanding newborn. And all thanks to TECHNOLOGY!
And I don’t even like my Kobo. The buttons are clunky, it’s slow to load, it’s a base model with no wireless and no touchscreen, and the free books don’t work. It doesn’t have the look and feel and smell of a real book. It makes Jonathan Frazen cranky. BUT I CAN READ WITH ONE HAND. And that has made all the difference in the world.
There is NO WAY I would be reading a heavy, thick book like Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot in traditional form. The only time I get “to myself” is while nursing (if you classify having another human being attached to you as time to yourself) and now I can read!
Until I started The Idiot, I was pretty smug about the mom brain thing – not this time, reading will keep my mind sharp. But the Russian names and complex plotting and character development are throwing me a bit. I’m having a hard time keeping the characters and their motivations straight. So now, I’ve got my Kobo in one hand, and SparkNotes on my phone so I can refer to the character list and read plot summaries. I’m not proud that I need this much help, but, I’m working on the list… on very limited sleep… and feeling pretty good about it.
I need to finish before I can fully comment, but, I’m finding similar themes as in The Magic Mountain – a naive young man meets and unconventional woman; corruption through drinking and disease; you know, light stuff. But more important that the ins and outs of this book – I won’t be an “idiot” on this maternity leave. I’m excited to get through even more great books in between Curious George and Little Critter’s adventures.
“A fool with a heart and no sense is just as unhappy as a fool with sense and no heart.”
The Magic Mountain is #706 on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, and #9 on the Novel 100.
Finishing Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” means that I have read 10% of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Okay, 9.99%. Still. I’ve read 100 of the best books ever written. According to some people, anyway!
I’ve been choosing short books for months now to help me reach my goal, so this 850 page clunker was daunting. It took me nearly two months to read, and I was glossing over some of the boring parts.
Yes, even great books have boring parts. My sister just finished “The Count of Monte Cristo” and now claims that every book written before 1940 has a bunch of boring , wordy crap in the middle. It does feel that way sometimes.
“The Magic Mountain” has a series of philosophical debates between two supporting characters. It was reminiscent of the asides in Atlas Shrugged. This is not a good thing. They come out of nowhere and leave you thinking “What?? What about the characters, what’s happening to them?”
The introduction (by one of my favourite authors ever, A.S. Byatt) addresses these issues. What happens to the characters isn’t really the point. This book is about personal discovery, it’s about Europe, it’s about time and space and sickness and health and on and on. I would have loved to write an essay on this book, you could pick any topic you wanted!
I *wanted* more of the love story, but the female lead sort of fades away near the end of the book. Apparently Thomas Mann himself said that you must read this book twice to truly understand it. I’m not sure if I’ll take him up on that.
For now, my big push for 100 of the 1001 books is done. Baby #2 is due in about two weeks, so the coming months are going to be about survival, in general, and in reading. I’m stepping away from goals and plans and will consider ANY reading to be great success. After baby #1, I didn’t read for six months. I’m hoping to keep reading and keep my sanity this time.
While I sit at home on sick leave, I’m reading another book about Germans, Half Blood Blues. I’ll get back to the list sometime, but till then, I’m reading what I want! FREEDOM!
I’ve leave you with some dirty talk, Thomas Mann style:
“The body, love, death, are simply one and the same. Because the body is sickness and depravity, it is what produces death, yes, both of them, love and death, are carnal, and that is the source of their great terror and magic… Consider the marvelous symmetry of the human frame, the shoulders and the ribs arranged in pairs, and the navel set amid the supply belly, and the dark sexual organs between the thighs… Let me take in the exhalation of your pores, and brush the down – oh, my human image made of water and protein, destined for the contours of the grave, let me perish, my lips against yours!”