Friday, 28 March 2008

The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse (winner 1946)

From one Nobel German to another... but my reaction couldn't be more different. I simply hated The Glass Bead Game, all fifteen million pages of it. It was only the lure of the Nobel Project that kept me from flinging it across the room on several occasions. That's hours of reading time I could have devoted to my library studies (lol).

The whole philosophy behind the book rubbed me up the wrong way - basically it's set in an alternative future where after the wars of the 20th century people turned their back on the worldly pursuit of scholarly fame and fortune to live entirely the life of the mind in an isolated scholarly province in what seems to be Germany. The cream of the intellectual crop are sent here as kids, separated from the outside world and their families. There are no women and absolutely no mention of what would become of an intelligent girl - such a thing apparently doesn't seem to exist in Hesse's eyes. The central character is, so we are repeatedly told, this overwhelmingly charismatic leader, but we're only told this, it never comes out in Hesse's portrait of him. To me, he seems like an arrogant twat who's never wrong and is always laughing 'merrily' at the foibles of others. Grrrrrrrrrrr. The whole idea of turning your back on the world and the insistence on meditation to control any possible emotion etc etc really irritates me as well.

In the end the lead character does go out into the world... and immediately dies. What was the point of that?

The Glass Bead Game of the title is a pointless exercise where they try to weave together all the world's knowledge in some sort of trivial exhibition. I never really got how it worked or what the point was supposed to be.

In conclusion, I immediately rued selecting such a weighty tome from amongst Hesse's oeuvre, and this certainly has not inspired me to ever read anything else from him!

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