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Friday, 30 November 2012

Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse

So, to another edition of the Hermann Hesse analysis hour. In this edition I'll be reviewing Narcissus and Goldmund, a title I'd never even heard of until I chose Hesse as a dissertation topic. I had high hopes though, considering the interesting theme of opposition that was touted on the blurb. I only hoped that it wouldn't disappoint me like Demian did.

Narcissus and Goldmund is, at its heart, a story about the friendship between the two title characters, both of whom start out as boys attending a monastery school in medieval Germany. Narcissus is the more scholarly and wiser of the two, but very reserved and moderate in his emotions as a result. Goldmund, on the other hand, is artistic and emotional. Their friendship sort of takes a back seat though when Goldmund leaves the monastery to seek out his destiny, having realised that the life of a clergyman is not for him; thus we spend a large chunk of the novel following him in his life as a wanderer.
As you could probably guess, there isn't really much of a plot for this one. It's more a character study of the two title characters, particularly the artistic Goldmund. To be honest, I don't think that the comparative simplicity of the plot harms it at all. In fact, I would say that it helps, as it leaves more time for the reader to get a sense of these characters and ultimately come to love them. And I did honestly come to love these characters. In Narcissus, I could really sympathise with his more reserved, simpler needs, as well as the difficulty he has getting close to others, while in Goldmund I couldn't help but admire his gregarious nature and his need to express the images in his soul in some way; they felt kind of archetypal, as they each embody the qualities of the Scholar and the Artist respectively, but at the same time their interactions with each other influenced their personalities, which I thought was really interesting. Especially touching are their interactions in the final chapter, though I leave that to you to find out.

Once again with Hesse's work, I find that there's so much that I want to express about how Narcissus and Goldmund affected me, but I find that words are an imperfect medium. So I guess that I'll leave you with the assurance that it is a book that deserves wider recognition and that it affected me in a very personal way. My recommendation might sound odd, but I would say that it's a book that I would recommend to those who are at a point in their lives where choices have to be made. It's definitely what I needed after finishing the behemoth that is Don Quixote. 5/5

Next review: Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse.

Signing off,

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Don Quixote, Books 4 & 5 by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

It's done. After three and a half weeks, I am finally done with Don Quixote. Those who read my review of the proceeding parts will be well aware that I did not like it, considering it an exercise in horror and poor attempts at humour. Did I fare any better in these parts?

Parts 4 & 5 continue the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as they travel across the country in search of wrongs to right. And while most of the problems that were present in the previous parts are still here in force, I will admit that these parts are more enjoyable.
So, I shall get the negative out of the way first. It's still asking you to laugh at the plight of a mentally ill man. Not only that, in Part 5, when Don Quixote's adventures from the preceding parts have become widely known to people, there are those that would purposely create false scenarios designed to trick and humiliate said mentally ill old man and his idiot squire. The jokes become more deliberately cruel, as opposed to merely absurd with a cruel streak. I still can't get behind that.
Now for the positive. It actually contained some really interesting side characters and stories, such as "The Curious Impertinent" which is the source of the term lothario. These side stories are perhaps your more traditional courtly romance kind of story, but they make a nice change from the aforementioned cruelty. The other thing that I liked was that Don Quixote actually seemed to get better as he went along. While he was still convinced of knight-errantry and enchantments, he began to see things as they really were and was ready and willing to compensate the people who he had inadvertently wronged. It was refreshing to see him confront the consequences of his actions, considering some of the harm he had wrought before.

Overall, while I still don't like it, I can at least tolerate Don Quixote in the later parts. It is evident that Cervantes was a talented writer and it just annoys me that he should be remembered and celebrated by what I can't help but of as an exercise in cruelty. Perhaps this is something to be appreciated, but I still wouldn't recommend it. 2.5/5

Next review: Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse.

Signing off,