by Thomas Mann
It’s best I start with a couple of confessions.
First up – I love a Deal. Like a 3 for 2 or buy 2 and get a glamorous make-up bag, chock-full of sweet scented cosmetics which will take years off my face.
So it will be no surprise that I was over the moon when I discovered that Death in Venice wasn’t just one story, but part of a family of seven.
My second confession – yes it is strange that it didn’t occur to me that it would be a collection, particularly when the small print down the spine clearly read ‘…and Other Stories’ or that it was recommended for reading on a short story module I’ve just completed.
So I’m not so great with explicit messages.
To the book…
One word: Fabulous
Two sentences: With just the first story read, I cheered, I squealed and I was little loud for a Sunday evening, for it has been months since I read something so compelling and wonderfully constructed. Little Herr Friedemann (the title and the protagonist) has passion, has sadness and has you experiencing very single moment.
Now to a tiny overview of some of the other stories…
The Joker – Story Number Two
The detail and description are perfect. The narrator’s self-knowledge and understanding of others is so astute that at times it feels unnerving, sinister. He’s not the kind of person I’d feel comfortable inviting for dinner for I’d always feel he knew so much more and might take advantage.
For instance in Chapter 5: ‘For the time being it was very gratifying to live as a rather alien, effortlessly superior figure among these acquaintances and relations of mine whose limited outlook I found so amusing but to whom, because I liked to be liked, I behaved with adroit charm.’ – is just downright chilling.
Later on in the tale there’s a painful scene where the narrator attempts to speak with a young girl whom he is very much attracted. The telling is so uncomfortable in its clarity, that not only did I find myself for the first time sympathetic to the narrator, but also knowing how every inch of their brief and very disappointing encounter, felt.
Gladius Dei – Story Number Four
Again, Herr Mann can do no wrong. His description and ability to put you there astounds.
Further too, I thought I’d include a brief touch on this story, not only because it’s superbly crafted but also as it examines something very important – the depiction of religious figures – pertinent especially in regards to events in Paris over the last couple of weeks.
A painting of the Virgin Mary ‘….ravishingly feminine, naked and beautiful…her lips were half parted in a strange and delicate smile. Her slender fingers were grouped rather nervously and convulsively round the waist of the Child, a nude boy of aristocratic, almost archaic slimness, who was playing with her breast and simultaneously casting a knowing sidelong glance at the spectator’ – you can imagine might get a rise from not just the fanatical but also those whom find this kind of portrayal distasteful, disgraceful or just plain unnecessary.
Tristan – Story Number Five
I can’t stop, the description is supreme ‘…he had a slightly impeded, dragging way of speaking, as if his teeth were getting in the way of his tongue’
Or ‘The boredom of ‘Frau’* Spatz by this time reached that degree of intensity at which it causes protrusion of the eyes and a terrifying, corpse-like disfigurement of the human countenance.’
And ‘You, sir, as I have said, are a plebeian gourmet, a peasant with taste’ – Ouch
(* sorry I couldn’t find the German keyboard symbols so I put in her title not her first name)
Death in Venice – Story Number Seven
An interesting tale that I’m sure I was supposed to feel un-eased by, instead I found myself thinking ‘I know exactly what you mean’. Not obviously with all of it but I did have flashes to a recent holiday we took in Thailand. For whilst I was happily trapped in the Resort for seven days, I had abundant amounts of time to ponder the actions and invented back-stories of my fellow Pool-side Loungers (yes I’m thinking of you Leopard-Skin Bikini Mamma) and if that Sundowner Sipper to my right, really was a CEO to a luxury brand, or was he just very accomplished when it came to dressing.
Thomas Mann explains it better on page 243: ‘Nothing is stranger, more delicate, than the relationship between people who know each other only by sight – who encounter and observe each other daily, even hourly, and yet are compelled by the constraint of convention or by their own temperament to keep up the pretence of being indifferent strangers, neither greeting nor speaking to each other. Between them is uneasiness and overstimulated curiosity, the nervous excitement of an unsatisfied, unnaturally suppressed need to know and to communicate; and above all, too, a kind of strained respect. For man loves and respects his fellow man for as long as he is not yet a in a position to evaluate him, and desire is born of defective knowledge.’
The Final Word (plus three and a half)
Read it, it’s Fabulous!
(image sourced by Goggle Images)