THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES

Vienna, on the eve of WW I, home to Freud, Mahler, and Wittgenstein, was the apex of European civilization. It was also, as the hub of the last Habsburg Empire, the rotting, living-dead core of ancien-rÇgime Europe. Tumultuous, manic, and loosed from its traditional moral and spiritual moorings, Vienna was a fertile breeding ground not only for genius but also for defensive provincialism and, ultimately, fascism. That Vienna is the setting of this most celebrated of seldomly read novels, released in a new translation by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike and available in its entirety for the first time in English. Begun in the early 1920s, the first volume was published in 1930 and remained unfinished when Musil died in 1942. In 1932, Musil wrote in a notebook about this never-ending project: ``What the story that makes up this novel amounts to is that the story that was supposed to be told in it is not told.'' The closest thing to a human protagonist is Ulrich, the so-called man without qualities, a skeptic who views with irony the Austro-Hungarian Empire's attempts to match the patriotism of the newer German state on its border. Meanwhile, he's obsessed with the celebrated case of a mass murderer named Moosbrugger (M, Fritz Lang's famous film, was similarly obsessed). But the real protagonist is a dying culture, represented by Vienna. This novel marks Musil, albeit unwittingly (he hated Joyce and loved the 19th- century Russian novelists), as the high priest of German modernism (see Arno Schmidt's Collected Novellas, p. 1371). The book opens with an almost God's-eye view: ``A barometric low hung over the Atlantic. It moved eastward toward a high-pressure area over Russia without as yet showing any inclination to bypass this high in a northerly direction.'' From the heavens, the book swoops down to the minutest psychological details in an effort to bring every possible aspect of human and natural existence under the domesticating control of art.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-394-51052-6

Page Count: 1728

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1994

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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