Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories

Thomas Mann

Book cover

[Note that I only read “Death in Venice” out of a different collection of short literature, not any of the other stories in this particular volume. But this was the translation I read.:]

I had been feeling for quite a while that I would like to read something by Thomas Mann, but for some reason never got around to it until now. The urge inexplicably became irresistible this weekend, so although I’d like to read “The Magic Mountain” or “Buddenbrooks”, I read “Death in Venice” because Elise had it in a collection of short fiction.

I’m so glad that I did get around to reading him, and have a feeling this will just be the start of an ongoing relationship with his work. Although I don’t want to draw too sharp of a connection, there were many aspects of this novella that put me in mind of my current favorite author, Haruki Murakami. They share the intense focus on the solitary mind, and the distorting (for better or worse) effects of solitude on one’s perception of the outward world. There is even a bit of Murakami-esque mysteriousness with the strange pilgrim near the beginning. I once heard Murakami speak, and one thing he mentioned was that most of his protagonists (whose broad biographies often closely resemble his own) are not meant to represent himself, but rather are meant to represent people who he could have become, but didn’t. I think this perspective seemed very apt for my interpretation of Mann’s main character Aschenbach. Mann in fact did fall for a young boy at a seaside resort once, and though he didn’t quite respond in the same extreme fashion that A. does, I think he felt those same urges and channeled them into this character.

I loved Mann’s extensive use of references to classical mythology and philosophy in this story. I often think of Murakami as a writer of fairy-tales, and these references to archetypal stories help me see Mann in that category as well, to some extent. I thought his depiction of the Apollonian and Dionysian modes of human experience was so rich, particularly the way that one may lead directly to the other. Very excited to read some more of his work.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars