Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

For years I have wanted to read this short little piece of fiction. But, recently, one of my book clubs decided to read Jeff In Venice, Death In Varanasi. After completing the novel we decided we should read Death in Venice. In order to try and seek out answers to Dyer naming his book as he did. But, these answers are not found in Mann's novel.

Instead, I was pleased to discover something altogether new. I have always heard Death in Venice labeled as queer literature. And, in fact, this is a main reason why I always wanted to read this novel. A story about a 60+ year old writer who falls in love with a very young man. An unspoken love. Something that merely existence in the imagination of the narrator.

But, I quickly discovered the queer label is a very shallow reading of this text. Sure, go ahead and make it about the sexuality. There is, perhaps, an underlying tone of homoerotic obsession at play. But, mostly the text is about youth. About regret. About the beauty of perfection. The concept of what could have been.

The narrator, an author, views the young man's body as something of complete perfection. He believes words can only complement this body, but never create this body. Are these the thoughts of an artist realizing his art may never have achieved perfection? That art is never able to be perfection?

Also, much is said of age. Old vs. young. The narrator is quick to point out age gaps and people pretending to be younger than they truly are. This is the story of a man at the end of his life. An artist preparing for death. Seeking the answers to all that he never found time to ask questions of.

The book is beautifully written. And, at merely 100 pages, a very tightly written and heavy experience.


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