Another short novella which is on lot of ‘must read under 100 pages’ list! This one by Thomas Mann was not as appealing or extraordinary to me as it has been for lot of other readers.
A famous 50 years old writer Gustav Aschenbach, suffering from writer’s block, goes to Venice to get his imagination working again. He stays at a hotel in Venice and sees a 14 year old boy Tazido there and gets fascinated by him. As soon as this stalking and stuff went on for few pages, I remembered how and why I couldn’t read Lolita (which has a similar element of loving/liking/fantasizing a young girl(in Lolita)) after 100 or so pages! That was it!
Gustav follows the boy everywhere. Basically stalks him, falls in ‘love’ with him. Venice is hit by epidemic and he doesn’t leave. And pays for it with his life. Hence, Death in Venice. Sigh! The subject derives inspiration from Greek practise of ‘paiderastia’ which translates to love of boys. The book has won accolades for its prose and the fact that the subject was kinda bold for the era (WWI) it was written in.
For me, I finished Death in Venice only because it was very short and I could bear with the subject for 2-3 hours it took me to read it. Just another novel, which I don’t want to remember but I know it’s unforgettable…
Nothing is stranger or more ticklish than a relationship between people who know each other only by sight, who meet and observe each other daily – no hourly – and are nevertheless compelled to keep up the pose of an indifferent stranger, neither greeting nor addressing each other, whether out of etiquette or their own whim.
“The observations and encounters of a man of solitude and few words are at once more nebulous and more intense than those of a gregarious man, his thoughts more ponderable, more bizarre and never without a hint of sadness. Images and perceptions that might easily be dismissed with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions occupy him unduly; they are heightened in the silence, gain in significance, turn into experience, adventure, emotion. Solitude begets originality, bold and disconcerting beauty, poetry. But solitude can also beget perversity, disparity, the absurd and the forbidden.”
Nothing is more curious and awkward than the relationship of two people who only know each other with their eyes who meet and observe each other daily, even hourly and who keep up the impression of disinterest either because of morals or because of a mental abnormality. Between them there is listlessness and pent-up curiosity, the hysteria of an unsatisfied, unnaturally suppressed need for communion and also a kind of tense respect. Because man loves and honors man as long as he is not able to judge him, and desire is a product of lacking knowledge.
It is as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being; for knowledge of the sources of an artist’s inspiration would often confuse readers and shock them, and the excellence of the writing would be of no avail.