The Confusions of Young Torless- Robert Musil

Recently I finished ‘The confusions of Young Torless’.

This is an early masterpiece of Robert Musil, whose fame rests on his epic work- The man without qualities.

I can’t say it was an easy read as this is such a dense novel. The plot is very different, even disturbing at times, but his way of writing is marvelous.

Plot      

It’s all about young Torless, who is sent to a boarding school, far away from his loving parents. There he become friends with two other fellow students, namely Reiting and Beineberg, and with Beineberg he’d often visit a local prostitute named as Bozena, and indulge in all types of youthful activities. Torless, eager to experience the world in his youthful enthusiasm is torn between two worlds, one that of his parents, the familiar world where people lead seemingly perfect lives and the other one of sordid adventures. There he’d be meeting Basini, a fellow pupil, and the plot then moves in to deeper intrigues and eroticism.

Character Sketches

Torless

Torless is a young boy, who absolutely loves and respects his parents. He is confused about so many things. A deep thinker, who is a budding intellectual, he has his own concepts about morality and his own world views at this young age. He doesn’t like the treatment meted out to Basini by Reiting and Beineberg, but is too confused to protest. Musil has portrayed him beautifully.

Basini

He deserves our sympathy. He is too young and may be too confused as well. He doesn’t know how to protest and is simply manipulated by the duo of Reiting and Beineberg.

Reiting and Beineberg   

Among them, Beineberg is a metaphysical thinker, fascinated by the Oriental philosophy. His father, who was in India, has been his biggest influence.

Reiting is your typical ruthless and cunning bully. He is too clever and would go any extent to achieve his aims.

Parents of Torless

They are kind hearted and loving, living their little contented bourgeoisie lives. Torless is often disturbed by the gap between their perfect lives and the one he has been forced to lead at the school.

Bozena

Bozena is the local prostitute. She had such big dreams once, but now she has ended up as nothing. Surely we can sympathize with her, but she is very cruel and brutal at the same time.

Comments

This is an autobiographical novel, derived from the experiences of Musil at an Austrian military academy.

This is a marvelous work by Musil. As I said earlier, this is a dense novel. I had to reread many paragraphs until I could connect the dots and form a bigger picture. Still its really worthy of the effort!!!

Rating

3/5

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Books I’ve read in 2018

Classics-:

1. The fall- Albert Camus
2. The Stranger – Camus
3. Heart of Darkness- Joseph Conrad
4. The confusions of Young Torless- Robert Musil
5. Utopia –Sir Thomas More
6. Slaughterhouse five- Kurt Vonnegut
7. The sorrows of young werther- Goethe
8. Waiting for Godot –Beckett
9. On the Heights of Despair- Emil Cioran
10. Journey to the end of the night- L.F.Celine
11. The Bell Jar –Sylvia Plath
12. Nausea- Sartre
13. No Longer Human- Ozamu Dazai
14. Correction- Bernhard
15. Extinction- Bernhard
16. The loser- Bernhard
17. Confusion- Stefan Zweig
18. Man’s fate- Andre Malraux
19. All quiet on the western front- Erich Maria Remarque
20. The Essential Kafka: The Castle; The Trial; Metamorphosis and Other Stories –Kafka
21. English, August: An Indian Story –Upamanyu Chatterjee

MALAYALAM
22. Charulata –Tagore (Malayalam translation)
23. Pottalile Itavazhikal- Abhilash Melethil (Malayalam)
24. Death Certificate- Anand (Malayalam)
25. Vishnu- Anand (Malayalam)

On Advertising
26. The Persuasive Copywriter –ENJ Carter
27. The Boron Letters –Gary Halbert
28. Reality in advertising- Rosser Reeves

29. Scientific Advertising –Claude C Hopkins
30. Making Ads Pay: Timeless Tips for Successful Copywriting –John Caples
31. AdKatha The Story of Indian Advertising –Anand Halve
32. Indian Advertising: Laughter and Tears- Arun Chaudhury
33. Ogilvy on advertising- David Ogilvy
34. Nawabs, Nudes, Noodles: India through 50 Years of Advertising-Ambi Parameswaran
35. Adland: A Global History of Advertising- Mark Turngate
36. A Technique for Producing Ideas –James Webb Young

Miscellaneous

37.The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time- Mark Haddon
38 . Neurotribes- Steve Silberman
39.A Life Interrupted the Story of My Battle with Bullying and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder –Sumi Mukherjee
40.An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales –Oliver Sacks

My reading plan for 2019

Fiction

1. in search of lost time- Marcel Proust

(I’m currently reading by way of swans. This is my biggest project)

Total books-: 7

2. The age of reason- Jean Paul Sartre

3. To the lighthouse- Virginia woolf

4. Dead souls- Gogol

5.A house for Mr.Biswas- V.S. Naipaul

6. War and peace- Tolstoy

7. The Charterhouse of Parma- Stendhal

8. The Red and the black- Stendhal

9. Germinal- Emilie Zola

10. The counterfeiters- Andre Gide

11. The scarlet letter- Hawthorne

12. Sentimental Education- Flaubert

13. A mind at Peace- Tanpinar

14. Brave New world- Huxley

15. The Golem- Gustav Meyrink

16. The Man without qualities- Robert Musil

Philosophy

17. Either/ or- Søren Kierkegaard

18. Thus Spake Zarathustra- Nietzsche

19.Fear and trembling- Søren Kierkegaard

20. The Rebel-Camus

21. The myth of Sisyphus- Camus

22. Mythologies- Roland Barthes

23. Being and nothingness- Sartre

24. The genealogy of morals- Nietzsche

25. Human all too human- Nietzsche

26. The social contract- Rousseau

Advertising

27. The book of Gossage- Howard Gossage

28. How to write a good advertisement- victor O Schwab

29. The Robert collier letter book

30. on the art of writing copy- H.G.Lewis

Rereads

1. The Art of memory- Francis Yates

2. Nausea- Sartre

3. Essential Kafka- Kafka

4. The stranger- Camus

5. The fall- Camus

Journey to the end of the night- Louis Ferdinand Celine

Finished Celine’s Journey to the End of the night yesterday.

This novel is widely regarded as one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. It took me 13 long days to finish it.

This one is obviously a different book, and I dare say a special one.

Plot

Told in first person, this is all about the travails of Ferdinand Bardamu, a medical student,the alter ego of the author himself. It all starts during the war years, when Bardamu joins the army, but after witnessing some terrible events he starts doubting his own sanity. During that time he gets acquainted with Leon Robinson, another fellow soldier, who would haunt him throughout the story.

After returning from the front, Bardamu starts an affair with Lola, an American woman, who would ditch him sooner, after hearing his views on Patriotism (Bardamu despises the wretched war), plunging him in to the abysses of insanity.

Later, he starts making out with Musyne, a promiscuous woman, but it also ends badly.

Broken, he then shifts to Africa, boarding a ship where the passenger would treat him with contempt and suspicion. There too he would witness the selfishness and thuggery of human beings, making him depressed. Sold as a slave to a ship to America, he reaches this great country, where again he’d be meeting Lola .Their encounter ends badly and he returns to France, to work as a doctor,  and also works sometime at an asylum where he meets the interesting figure of Baryton, who would find his own spiritual salvation by studying English. Here he again meets Robinson, which culminates in the murder of an elderly woman named as Henrouille, and eventually in the murder of Robinson by his lover, Madelon. The novel ends when Bardamu goes to the police station to depose before the cops.

Character Sketches

Ferdinand Bardamu

A medical student. He is a womanizer and a pessimist.

Leon Robinson

A thug. He gets killed in the end by his lover, a cunning woman named as Madelon. Robinson is so self centred. He is also the murderer of Grandma Henrouille.

Madame Henrouille

A wicked woman. Her only ambition is to get rid of her mother in law, Grandma Henrouille, and with the connivance of Robinson she achieves it.

Lola

A woman, a beautiful one with lofty ideals about patriotism and masculinity. She gets pissed off when Bardamu tells about his own ideas on war and patriotism.

Baryton

The superior of Bardamu at the asylum. He hates the lunatics, and he finds his own spiritual salvation in English. Bardamu teaches him English, and finally he leaves France in search of his ‘destiny’.

Madelon

A cunning woman. She develops an affair with Bardamus and at the same time dotes on Robinson. In the end, she kills Robinson.

Comments

Celine views Patriotism and racial superiority  as absurd things. In this aspect, there are parallels between Bardamu and Paul Baumer (the protagonist of All quiet on the Western front) albeit in a different way. This is a misanthropic universe no doubt about that.The whole plot reeks of a fetid pessimism. Bardamu is helpless,at times a  wicked misanthrope, who has his own moments of altruism though they are rare.

Rating

5/5

Reading Proust : Day 1

Finally started to read The way by Swann’s. The first page is, what should I say, absolutely marvelous.

Favorite line-:

“I could hear the whistling of trains, which, now nearer and now farther off, punctuating the distance like the note of a bird in a forest, plotting the  distances, described to me the extent of the deserted countryside where the   traveler hastens  towards the nearest station: and the little road he is following   will be engraved on his memory by the excitement he owes to new places,to unaccustomed, activities,to the recent conversation and the farewells under the   unfamiliar lamp that follow him  still through the silence of the night, to the imminent sweetness of his return.”

The Essential Kafka- Franz Kafka

Recently I finished reading Kafka.

It was a huge collection, comprising most of his brilliant works, like The Trial, The Castle, The Metamorphosis, Letter to my father, In the Penal Colony and some small fables.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading his works.

I felt like I could really picture the gloomy figure of Josef K, his travails, his jeremiads, the brutal indifference of Fraulein Bustner, The stratagems of Leni, the advocate and the corn merchant, the cunning of Freida, the sad lives of Olga and Amalia…. And the distant figure of Herr Klamm…

Josef K represents in a way the loner, caught in the landslide, facing an indifferent world, which is giving him the cold shoulder. He is at a loss, about everything. People are so indifferent, to the extent that he cannot distinguish them from crazy apparitions.

When Kafka writes about his relationship with his own father, I felt really disturbed. This man was so sensitive, even to the smallest details, and so discerning as well.

In the penal colony is sort of a crazy story. It’s sort of a parable touching the absurdities regarding crime and punishment.

I felt sorry for Gregor samsa and was on the verge of tears when I realized the betrayal of Grete.

Kafka was a genius. I love this man.

Charulata- Rabindra Nath Tagore

Charulata is a novella by the Great Rabindra Nath Tagore. It’s all about the love affair between a married woman, named as Charulata and her husband’s cousin, Amal. Charu, as she is affectionately called, married to Bhupati, a news paper owner, and Amal happens to live with his family, and an affair starts between them. Charu, smitten by the Intellect of Amal, unconsciously falls for him. This novella is all about the complications and problems that are supposed to be there in that kind of an affair.

This novella was published in 1901 as Nastanirh ( The broken nest) and was later made in to a movie by the legendary Satayajit Ray.

A good read. A small, beautiful gem of a novel from Tagore.

On the Heights of Despair- E.M.Cioran

I closed my eyes after finishing this book and thought about the futility of life and surprisingly, a chain, a perceptible pattern of thoughts started to come out and torturing me, at the very instant.

After pondering about what Cioran says for some time, I resigned to (though with some melancholy) the thought of seeing the world as it really is.

This is a sad book, I am not denying it..

In a sense, it’s a really dangerous book and read it at your own risk.

Man’s fate- Andre Malraux

This novel is widely regarded as the magnum opus of Andre Malraux. It won the Prix Goncourt, as probably Malraux would have found some of his experiences (he was in China during those turbulent years) handy when writing it.

This novel is about human bonds, ideals, love, betrayal, hatred and everything. It primarily focuses on four young men- Kyo Gisors ( half French and Half Japanese, son of a well known Frenchman known as Mr.Gisors), Chen ( a fanatic who idealizes death), Katov, the Russian toughie, and the Belgian- Hemmelrich.

They have a plan – toppling the established order and bring revolution to China. But it fails, and Chen gets killed during a botched attempt to assassinate Chiang Kaishek .Kyo and others gets captured, and they eventually get killed or commit suicide.

I really liked Kyo Gisors . He is the sober one, the intellectual. Unlike Chen’s extreme suicidal ideations, Kyo has a pragmatic approach to everything, especially towards revolution though his relationship with his wife, May is bit strained.

Mr. Gisors is an opium addict,a well respected figure among the French population in the city. He loves his son and fear for his fate. He is close to Chen as well.

Baron Clappique is the most colorful character in this novel- The Mythomaniac, who conjures up stories after stories to hide his miserable present state.

Other characters include Mr. Feral; representing the French petit bourgeoisie and his girl friend Valerie (she ditches Feral as he saw her only as a sexual object. She is the most underrated character in this novel in my opinion).

This is an excellent philosophical novel, a poetic one. Malraux was a genius and so my five stars….

Confusion- Stefan Zweig

This is a small but gripping work from Stefan Zweig, one of the greatest writers to have emerged from Austria, and an underrated one, mostly to those who are familiar to his oeuvre.

Roland, a handsome, vivacious university student who loathes anything related to arts, much to the consternation of his refined father who venerates literature.  Due to his persistent nagging finally Roland yields and joins a course in English in the bustling city of Berlin.

As in the case of any provincial youth, Roland finds himself in the company of women and all the pleasure such a city has to offer. He feels liberated and born anew but soon everything comes to a halt as his father comes out of the blue to take a sneak peek at his son’s Berlin life. Caught red handed, that too with a girl inside his room, Roland, with tears in his eyes understands that he has to go back and obey his father. His act of repentance takes him to a remote town, away from the cozy Berlin, and there he happens to meet a man, the man who, will, change his life forever.

This novella is all about Roland and his boyish admiration of this genius, a man who has devoted his entire life for the studying of classics and Roland starts reading a lot and strangely falls in love with this father figure.  Professor, with many shades is an interesting character. He loves the boy and at the same time torments him and the boy finds his personality marvelous and brutal at the same time. He tries to understand him but often gets pushed away in the most brutal manner.

Roland helps him in one of his dream projects and soon realizes he will not be able to understand his personality in its completeness.  Tortured and tormented he complains to the wife of his master and soon that becomes a shameful affair, plunging Roland in to the murky waters of guilt and shame.

The novella ends when he realizes that the Professor has an erotic side, that he always pushed his student away in order to hide that.  Unable to conform to the norms of the society, this man, a homosexual, gets denigrated and brutalized by almost everyone until he meets the boy.  Roland feels sympathy for him but his confusion makes him almost numb.

Years later, Roland, now a distinguished professor, opens up about this strange love which had once bloomed in his life even unknown to him.  He never saw his professor again, and still remains as an enigma to him.

This must have been a revolutionary attempt, considering the era when it was first published. Zweig was a genius and this novel again proves his virtuosity.