Thomas Mann - Doctor Faustus 1947. Translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter, 1948. Penguin. 491 pp.
This cathedral of a novel is built stone by stone, each of them embellished in full detail - many times one wishes not. I think I first read this in 1978 but unfortunately wrote nothing then; wonderful to revisit but this time I found it harder going than Tolstoy, Melville or Patrick White and won’t be reading it a third time (although I think the original experience resulted in seeking out the Artur Schnabel recordings of the late Beethoven sonatas). The considerable effort required to read this is already rewarded just by the description of Beethoven’s Opus 111 sonata, as well as the often momentary digressions on many other works along the way. Just as memorable are the descriptions of non-existent works by the barely ficitious composer Adrian Leverkühn (Thomas Mann is explicit that Leverkühn is partly inspired by Schoenberg but I don’t know if the fictitious works have analogues). The biographical narrator is Leverkühn’s life-long reliable but pedestrian (viola player!) friend Serenus Zeitblom. As well as an epic and Faustian tragedy with several faces, there is also brief and unexpected wit (reward for the industrious reader), when a stereotypical impresario attenpts to woo Leverkühn but is instead the mouthpiece for almost funny commentary on pretentious musical audiences and fashions. So much is alluded to, on friendships, free will, creativity, art and more but the central narrative makes it clear that Adrian Leverkühn is only superficially Schoenberg, in another sense he is both the creativity and the guilt of the German nation made culpable for the Second World War.