I have been on a binge lately buying Thomas Mann 1st & early edition, I thought I would read one of his books, the idea behind “Doctor Faustus” intrigued me, as I also write music, at a level not quite as high as the subject of this book.
First off let me say, I did not enjoy reading the book initially in the over sized Omnibus edition binding, it felt cumbersome to start with, but I slowly got used to it. Once past that, I started to enjoy the book (I try not read the 1st editions – and prefer reading copies over them, so as not to damage them).
The subject of the book is a composer “Adrian” written from the perspective of his closest friend, written from early childhood to his death. The book deals with analytical music theory (which I found difficult) in reference to life events of the composer, leading up to a Faustian deal with the devil, for a set period, where the composer would have time to create his masterpieces, after which time he would descend to hell.
Although not clear if this was all some sort of nervous breakdown experienced by the composer, and the misfortunes than befall him, compounding his belief that he was damned.
Enough of the plot, the language and the seldom switching to German, French & Latin, along with vocabulary beyond mine… Made the book and extremely difficult read, mixed in with music theory, regarding compositions of classical composers, the processes etc, Made it yet more difficult. I must say even though this was a translation from original German, I admire Thomas Mann as an author, his ability to paint a thorough portrait of a musical genius and recluse, was believable. A mixture of pride, joy and sadness at the life of his friend, the orator of the story, paints an image that is unique, and one could easily mistake for a real biography of such a person.
The book also deals with Germany in context to the 1st & 2nd world war, in relation to the life of Adrian the composer, it draws both as a parallel, the damnation of the composers soul and the decline and fall of Germany & it’s culture.
Written in exile by Thomas Mann, then living in Switzerland, would have taken much courage to write this novel. Thomas Mann horrified by the news of what was happening in Germany, likened his country to having sold its soul to the devil – and its damnation was coming as he wrote the book.
As I stated earlier, this is a difficult read, at about half way I was counting down how many pages left and was starting to feel inclined to put the book away. I persevered and I am glad that I did not. Although I may delay starting any of his other works. I you are interested in late 19th, early 20th century German, life and culture, this is a fantastic way to gain some knowledge of how intellectual society met, the conversations and appreciation of the arts. Although I must warn you that although some parts of the book explore the Genius and his creativity, the general tone of the book is bleak and depressed, more so maybe towards the end.
I would recommend this book, however if you read pulp fiction, this book will be a struggle, if you have been exposed to other authors like Herman Hesse, Kafka, etc. Doctor Faustus will be a natural progression from them. If you want to understand everything, as I did not, be prepared to have a dictionary and/or google translate at your finger tips. My only regret having read this, and I will never read this again, is that I had not looked up words and phrases I was not familiar with.