I am now halfway through The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann’s 700+ page novel that I first read 34 years ago as a student at the University of Heidelberg. Begun in 1912 and not published until 1924, The Magic Mountain has been hailed as a masterpiece of German literature, a complex look into a country and culture thrust, sometimes kicking and screaming, into the 20th century.
After the main character Hans Castorp settles into his comfortable but chilly room at the Berghof sanitarium, the first thing the reader notices is that absolutely nothing happens. Nothing of any dramatic consequence, at least. Characters eat five gourmet meals a day, take walks, indulge in a little gossip now and again and saunter down to the village for the occasional shopping excursion.
The most important parts of the day are the twice daily rest-cures on the patients’ private balconies with alpine views. And it is during these rest-cures that Hans ruminates: on life, death, illness, art, wildflowers, the weather, on whatever his fevered imagination can conjure.
What Hans Castorp thinks about most is time. How, when one is bored, minutes and hours slow down, but weeks and months fly past. How desire can affect the passing of time. And why we all experience it so differently, even though we are all equally subject to its passing.
After the first few hundred pages, I thought I’d get tired of the endless internal monologue. But I was quickly drawn into Hans Castorp’s brain, into this Everyman’s deepening intellectual and emotional maturation. Like Han’s own revelations on time, I find the pages turn rather slowly but the chapters fly by. It is a book rich and rewarding, but demanding of your full attention.
I read a review on Goodreads that claimed the book ‘“really gets going around page 686.” I can’t wait, only 300 pages to go! Yet even now I find myself looking forward to returning to the Magic Mountain each evening to immerse myself in the rarified air of the Berghof sanitarium and discover what Hans Castorp will think about next.
If you’d like to read about what Hans Castorp is thinking, you can reserve The Magic Mountain here.