MiniReview: "Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann

What is it?

A novella, originally published in German in 1912, first published in book form in English in 1925. 


What is it about?

Do I really need to tell you? Oh boy, does that sound snobbish?! (An aside: Have you ever noticed how, just because someone knows about something, they assume everyone knows about it?) Okay, here goes: It's the story of an esteemed German writer, Aschenbach, who falls in love with and/or becomes obsessed by a beautiful adolescent boy during a visit to Venice and finds all his precious ideas turned upside down.


What did I think?

Well, I read an awful lot, and I write, and I have to say, this is as perfect a piece of writing as I could imagine. It's an infinitely fascinating story in which each of the elements (great writer of a certain age, beautiful youth, the sea, mysterious virus, the labyrinth that is Venice, misplaced luggage) is an absolutely perfect symbol of something else, or something more universal. What is even more fascinating to me, and what makes me want to keep going back and rereading this story, is that you can read it in so many ways. Although, apparently, Mann loathed his own homosexuality, the novella is ambiguous about the subject, it's open to other interpretations. Mann is a highly intellectual writer (and is that putting it mildly!) who does tend to lose himself up his own arse, and that's kind of what happens here: although he may be intending to show how wrong-headed same-sex love is, his tortured reasoning ends up by making me wish he'd just let himself go the way Aschenbach finally does. Yes, Mann does associate the full assumption of homosexuality with Death. But heck, we're all going to die eventually, and Aschenbach's death is kind of beautiful. Sure, he doesn't snuff it while climbing to a podium to accept a literary award; instead, he exits this imperfect world on an Italian beach, gazing at the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, an enticing young guy. Call me gay, but that sounds just fine to me.


What rating would I give it (using the Michelin-guide 3-star system)?:

3 stars (worth booking a vacation just in order to read it, in Venice maybe?)

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