Thomas Mann is playing with my perceptions.
The Magic Mountain (henceforth TMM) is structured into 7 chapters and I have just finished chapter 5. Only two chapters to go then. Ah yes, but these chapters increase in size. Chapter 1, 15 pages. Chapter 2, 18 pages. Chapter 3, 54 pages. Chapter 4, 89 pages. Chapter 5, 160 pages ….
334 pages in total. With chapters 6 and 7 comprising another 363 pages.
Why am I fixating on this? Because reading TMM is just like climbing a mountain. You think you’re getting somewhere, struggle breathless and exhausted round the next bend …. and another whacking great summit looms in front of you, higher than the one you’ve already climbed. Chapter 6 looks and feels just like right now. And I admit, my heart is sinking. See that bench by the path? I’m sitting on it and I’m taking a breather …..
One that’s lasted two weeks to date, admittedly. But what’s two weeks? Time is relative, after all. And so it seems is the page count.
There is much philosophising about the nature of time in the TMM. To be honest, I’m skimming most of that. But I did note this on page 99:
The first few days in a new place have a youthful swing to them, a kind of sturdy, long stride – that lasts for about six to eight days. Then to the extent that we ‘settle in’, the gradual shortening becomes noticeable.
This explains why the second week of a holiday passes much quicker than the first, and that is what the structure of TMM is trying to replicate. Because as the chapters lengthen, so does elapsed time. So while the first 12 months in the TB sanitorium has taken 5 chapters, the next 6 years are condensed into only 2 (admittedly very long) chapters. It’s a physical manifestation of the shortening of time.
Now, if the time needed to read the remaining pages shortens likewise, that would be a great bonus. I’m not counting on it though. But. I. Will. Climb (or is that crawl?) to the summit. I knew what I was letting myself in for when I started this re-read. TMM was never a favourite of mine, although I hoped that my older self would find more to appreciate than my 40-years younger self ever did. That I would find a brilliance to match that of Buddenbrooks (one of my top 10 novels of all time). It hasn’t happened yet. Still onwards …. upwards ….