‘It had been winter for God knows how long’ – ‘The Magic Mountain’ by Thomas Mann.


One of the best things about winter is the way it offers the perfect excuse for semi-hibernation, complete with self-indulgent eating, dozing and reading. It’s even better when the books you’re immersed in involve characters, in the depth of winter, self-indulgently eating, dozing and lazily musing on life. Thomas Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ is a meditation on the decadence of a sedentary life-style and is intended to be highly reflective and self-aware. I like to think I’m honouring its characters, if not its author’s intended moral message, through my aspirations to live out my own ‘Magic Mountain’ existence whenever possible.

There is a real hypnotic joy to this doorstop of a novel, and working through it can feel as comfortingly uneventful as its characters’ schedule of five huge meals a day interspersed with compulsory naps.  Of course, an 800 page novel in which a man goes on a three-week visit to a TB sanatorium and ends up staying there for seven years is not going to be a draw for everyone.  Personally, I love it as I love Goncherov’s Oblomov for making pretty much any routine sound impressively busy and productive by comparison.

For readers in search of intellectual cachet, ‘The Magic Mountain’ also deals with the malaise of modern day life and the nature of time itself.  Also, it’s a Thomas Mann novel, so people discuss philosophy and politics at length.  Then, hundreds of pages in, the whole book gets genuinely weird, with larger-than-life characters, inexplicable violence and ghostly visitations interrupting the realism and sanitary isolation of the novel’s enclosed setting.

‘The Magic Mountain’ is a winter favourite of mine.  I love the protagonist, Hans Castorp, who ‘must be considered mediocre, though in an entirely honourable sense,’ and I love the setting.  Mann takes every opportunity to indicate that Castorp’s torpor is not be admired, but I can’t help feeling that by writing a wonderfully crafted epic novel in which nothing happens, he is actively inviting his audience to turn into real-life versions of his characters, forcing us to retreat further and further from the world in order to allow more time for reading.  Unlike Castorp, I can’t actually leave my job and all my commitments to spend all my days in self-indulgent, unproductive laziness, but, if I could, I’d definitely pick this book to while away those long, unhurried afternoons!

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6 Responses to ‘It had been winter for God knows how long’ – ‘The Magic Mountain’ by Thomas Mann.

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    A favourite of mine too… I have yet to be disappointed by Mann, and I still have his Death in Venice to look forward to.

    • I must confess I found ‘Dr Faustus’ very hard going. It was a long time ago now, so I think re-judging re-read is probably in order. Of course, there’s also ‘Buddenbrooks’, which I still haven’t read, but it’s so long it might have to wait till next winter before I try it!

  2. Izzy says:

    I’ve just bought it. I’ve wanted to read it for so long but couldn’t find an edition that would suit me. So I ordered online a used Vintage International copy because the translation (by a certain John E. Woods) is supposed to be good. If I really like it, I will treat myself to a copy in the lovely Everyman’s Library edition 🙂

    • It’s time to admit that I didn’t actually read the version in the picture. I have a lovely pocket-size (assuming you have very deep pockets) Modern Library cloth-covered edition from my grandmother. As is the way with these books though, I didn’t inherit the dust-jacket and so felt licensed to just go for the best cover I could find when it came to illustrating the post. The translation is by H T Lowe-Porter and is likely out-of-date, but I found it utterly charming.

  3. It’s a marvellous book, isn’t it? Transports you to another place and time. I want to re-read now….

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