Saturday, January 01, 2011

Reading fail - The Man Without Qualities

My ambitious book for the winter was going to be Robert Musil's masterpiece, and when I read the first few chapters, I thought it was going to be a success, but at 150 pages or so in, I'm throwing it overboard. I thought it would be one of those rich, expansive, epic stories similar to War and Peace,'s no War and Peace.

It has so far been a series of character sketches, and while finely drawn, there just isn't enough interaction, dialogue (but lots of inner monologues), or plot to keep me going -- not for three volumes (never finished!) anyway. I know that it is supposed to be a detailed portrait of the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the Great War and the cultural and intellectual life of the characters, but I just don't have the patience to read about what everyone is "thinking" all the time, without its being tied to some actual feeling. Tolstoy rolls out his characters and they immediately come to life, and he manages to explore ideas and important historical moments while still engaging and entertaining the reader. I'm not really getting that from Musil. So I'm starting my new year by refusing to slog through a Proustian-length novel that isn't going to hold my interest.

Oh well, sometimes you're just not in the mood for certain books. I might be diving into Hilary Mantel's A Place of Greater Safety about the French revolutionaries, especially fitting since I hope to visit France later this year.


TheBob said...

Ah, sorry sorry! I know you were planning to read this anyway, but I gave you my recommendation and I'm really sorry you didn't like it.

The central character in TMWQ is really hard to like, and I think that makes the book a challenge as well. What I like about the author is his deep insight into the modern world and the way it works (and how the older structures fail in the modern world). I thought that it was very sad (pathetic?) to see all these characters wrapped up in the great minutiae of the celebration of the Austrian monarchy, knowing that a year later it will become completely pointless. The central question is "What has a point?"

It still staggers me to consider that Musil wrote chapters dedicated to the trial of a serial killer, considering he wrote in the 20's 30's and 40's. He seems to have guessed what was coming somehow.

I feel I should have prepared you for the fact that it's not War and Peace -- yeah, it's not that kind of work at all -- it really is more like The Magic Mountain, if anything.

I guess my personal identification got in the way more than I realized (Musil, Ulrich, and I are all former military, former mathematicians / engineers).

Anyway, sorry for the miss -- look forward to hear about what you're reading next.

Selena said...

Whoops, sorry for the delay. I didn't realize I had a comment hidden in moderation. No worries -- I sometimes just can't get in the mood for some books, and I didn't have the stamina for it! I've been a slow reader this winter.