I’m still reading Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, persevering with Helen Tracy Lowe-Porter’s translation. I’ve read that newer translations are more lucid, but stick with Lowe-Porter for her employment of medieval English vocabulary to correspond with the sections of the text in which characters speak in Early High German: masochism perhaps, because reading this novel is more than sufficiently challenging.
I’ve read Proust, Joyce, and Beckett, but Doctor Faustus beats them all for density and the concentration it requires. Part of me is inclined to take a break and dip into some less demanding texts, but I suspect that if I do that I’ll not pick Doctor Faustus up again.
More than my usual determination keeps me reading though, because you can’t help but be fascinated by this odd novel. Mann brings in ideas on religion, music, philosophy and the nature of art, and weaves them into this unreliable mock-biography whose characters I already loathe, but it all works incredibly well and has made me appreciate aspects of both religion, art and music in a new light.
I’ve read Death in Venice several times, of which there are overtones here, particularly in the homoerotic fascination of the narrator with the subject of his biography. Magic Mountain remains one of the finest novels I’ve read, and I think of it often, even six years after reading it. Mann is a novelist that cares far more for ideas than with plot, character or story, and though his reputation is as an arid writer, he shows such subtly in his understanding for human feeling. I’m not sure I’ve read any novel that recreates that narcissistic wall that surrounds youth better than Doctor Faustus.