Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family

Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family - Thomas Mann, John E. Woods, T.J. Reed For a long time I have been considering adding two new shelves - big-and-beautiful, governed by War and Peace and big-and-boredomful, governed by Middlemarch. Sadly, and to my great surprise, the Budenbrooks will have to reside on the latter shelf.

I saw many reviewers being astonished that such a novel could be written at such a young age, but to me it was so obviously the product of a young mind:

For one – it is restless – it wants to move on in a hurry. What annoyed me most about the narrative was that it constantly leaped months and years ahead in time, which created a sense of disconnect and emptiness. And despite that, the story felt long, light to read, but heavy in its monotony.

The characters’ actions were often illogical and inexplicable, at least to me. For example, young Toni’s decision after the summer she spent with Morten. We get a hint of what she might have been thinking, but it is against any law of adolescence and first love. They just don’t function this way and Mann at 26 should have already known that. Of course, times were different back then, but still I remain unconvinced.

The characters… I see them drawn, like in a comic book, with their words written inside bubbles surrounding their heads. Words that didn't come from the inside, words that floated in the air. I didn’t feel that these characters had an inside – they were well drawn outwardly, but their inner lives, torments, unspoken motivations, were absent from the book’s pages. Or maybe they were there, but I just failed to see them because they weren't written in a way I can relate to.

The Family’s decline was synonymous to its death. It came regularly, suddenly, without much tension build up or any aftershocks. It just came and went. This is too easy, Mann, far too easy. Death is much more than this and death is much less than this. It deserves more thought and more beautiful sentences.

All in all, the impression I was left with is that this novel was the child of a young mind dreaming big, but not having neither the patience, nor the experience to execute with authority. I caught myself thinking a few times that I couldn’t believe this was the same author who wrote Death in Venice. The two books seem so different in style, quality of writing and knowledge of the human condition. Just as Zola, Mann had come a long way as a writer. I am grateful that Budenbrooks wasn’t my first book by him, because it might very well have been the last.

Moral of the story – bright young minds should stick to what they know best – philosophy (:-)), and should leave family sagas to those who have lived through philosophy, through family and through decline.