A stunningly beautiful youth and the city of Venice set the stage for Thomas Mann’s introspective examination of erotic love and philosophical wisdom.
Public Domain (P)2011 Trout Lake Media
The book itself is well worthy of the name "classic". It is deep, intelligent and moving, and the most impressive thing about it, to me, was the apparent ease with which the author portrays such a complex protagonist and such deep feelings. However, I was only able to reach these conclusions after reading a print version of the book, since in the audiobook I could only barely follow the story.
The problem with the narrator is very simple: his voice is just too deep. He's not an untalented narrator, in that his pronunciation is very clear and he reads without any errors (I think I detected a hint of accent -- South African, perhaps?). However, he reads at such a low pitch that it is very hard to decipher what he's saying. Most of the time it sounds like someone grumbling to himself in another room. This would be a perfect voice for some sort of "mountain-man" in an animated film, but constantly straining to understand the narrator is not what you want in an audiobook.
I bought this version of Death in Venice because it was really inexpensive, and the sample seemed decent enough. After I started it, I found the narration to be excruciatingly awful, and after about an hour of listening in the car, I made up my mind that this audio book had to go! The narrator has a deep, muffled, and throaty voice that simply croaked. He sounds like a heavy smoker whose respiratory system is about to give out at any moment. I decided to call it a loss and to download and listen to the more expensive version. The story itself is great.
An aching requiem for love and reason set amidst the swelling sicknesses of Europe before the Great War.
I did eventually come to like the narrator very much- found his tone a bit monotonous at first, but perhaps in the end this was the right artistic choice considering the tone of the book.
All in all, great.
The narrator had a good voice for listening to. His pace was fine in the first chapter or two. Then it was as if he was told to pick up the pace because he started reading so fast and blurring his words together it was unpleasant to listen to any longer. I was really getting into the story too. What a drag!
The narrator should have continued in the same pace he used at the beginning of the book.
"Solitude gives birth to the original in us"
“A solitary, unused to speaking of what he sees and feels, has mental experiences which are at once more intense and less articulate than those of a gregarious man. They are sluggish, yet more wayward, and never without a melancholy tinge. Sights and impressions which others brush aside with a glance, a light comment, a smile, occupy him more than their due; they sink silently in, they take on meaning, they become experience, emotion, adventure. Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous - to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales
This book is a warning to the reader and to artists, of the price paid for artistic success, and the hidden in the beauty of art, that is the center of culture but also the rejection of culture by the individual that is exploring new possibilities outside the shared reality of a society. this tension of a shared common view and the exploration of possibilities outside the norm tear the peace of one's soul or for dose of us who have no soul our minds. The displacement does not have to be great , it only takes one step to be standing at the edge of the abyss, for it to look back at you with all its fury, and enchantment. For art is the breaking of taboos, and the establishment of new ones, it is reimagining what we are as a group, bubble, culture.
“Even in a personal sense, after all, art is an intensified life. By art one is more deeply satisfied and more rapidly used up. It engraves on the countenance of its servant the traces of imaginary and intellectual adventures, and even if he has outwardly existed in cloistral tranquility, it leads in the long term to over fastidiousness, over-refinement, nervous fatigue and overstimulation, such as can seldom result from a life of the most extravagant passions and pleasures.”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales
Gustav von Aschenbach the main character of the book is a famous writer, in his fifties; while walking past a cemetery, while observing the edifices and religious motifs, he reads “THEY ENTER THE HOUSE OF GOD” “THE ETERNAL LIGHT MAY SHINE UPON THEM” (the caps is the way the writer wrote the passages) he observes a wild looking foreigner with read hair this makes him fantasize of a wild kind of eden described in detail. there are three more encounters on his travels they all infer his dislocation from society his fear of the otherness within him, some like this one are obviously religious, others are more of societal and sexual in nature. Thomas Mann eloquently warns us of his intentions in a description of the writer.
“What did one see if one looked in any depth into the world of this writer's fiction? Elegant self-control concealing from the world's eyes until the very last moment a state of inner disintegration and biological decay; sallow ugliness, sensuously marred and worsted, which nevertheless is able to fan its smouldering concupiscence to a pallid impotence, which from the glowing depths of the spirit draws strength to cast down a whole proud people at the foot of the Cross and set its own foot upon them as well; gracious poise and composure in the empty austere service of form; the false, dangerous life of the born deceiver, his ambition and his art which lead so soon to exhaustion ---”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
And so he takes as by the hand into secret passion, the depravity of Gustav von Aschenbach. His very open fascination with a fourteen year old boy, that is staying in his hotel.
He regards him, absorbs him with every look, escalating into obsession or as he sees it love.
“For passion, like crime, is antithetical to the smooth operation and prosperity of day-to-day existence, and can only welcome every loosening of the fabric of society, every upheaval and disaster in the world, since it can vaguely hope to profit thereby. And so Aschenbach felt a morose satisfaction at the officially concealed goings-on in the dirty alleyways of Venice, that nasty secret which had merged with his own innermost secret and which he, too, was so intent on keeping “
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
Little by little this passion consumes him, and physically transforms him into one of his most disdained visions and makes him risk it all, as he falls deeper into visions of the other God.
“But the dreamer was now with them, within them: he belonged to the stranger god. Yes, they were now his own self as they hurled themselves upon the animals, lacerating them, slaughtering them, devouring gobbets of steaming flesh, as they dropped to the trampled mossy ground for unbridled coupling, an offering to the god. And his soul savored the debauchery and delirium of doom.“
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
This a book laden with allusions to antiquity and rich in allegory and symbolism, no word is wasted, not a sentence is there fluf or just adorn, it is a masterpiece delivered powerfully and succinctly.
This book was published in 1911 the world is silently spinning into an abyss of death and destruction unbenounced to all its contemporaries, but here you can feel, almost a premonition a warning, of a malaise a stink in the middle of the best of civilization.
I love this book but it is not easy to listen to it, when the reader reads in a monotone, with minimal inflection to what is a very passionate book, with imagery and allegory that needs to be brought to life by the narrator, this was delivered more like a religious sermon than a novel, and a three hour sermon is hard to take. I would recommend reading this novella as you will be able to absorb more of the language and the subtleties of Thomas Mann writing.
A melancholic allegorical study into the unavoidable human dangers of love and compulsion set in the backdrop of Venice during a cholera epidemic. Sombre, descriptive and moving.
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