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Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

So, Hesse. Not a name that's been heard around this blog for quite some time now. I was quite fond of his works, but after writing a 4000 word essay on a selection of his works I found myself a bit tired of him, oversaturated as I was at the time. After some time had passed, I found myself hankering for a bit more of his work, and I still hadn't gotten round to reading The Glass Bead Game yet.

The Glass Bead Game is the story of Joseph Knecht, an elite academic in a province known for its intellectual prowess and mastery of the eponymous glass bead game. Set out as a biography of him following a mysterious scandal and subsequent death, it follows his struggle between maintaining the intellectual purity of the Castalian society that he has grown up in, and preventing it from becoming irrelevant in its detachment from the politics of the outside world.
I wanted to like this more than I did. After feeling so moved by his writing in books like Beneath the Wheel and Steppenwolf, I had hoped that something similar would happen with The Glass Bead Game. As it is, I can appreciate it as a well-crafted critique of academia, but I'm not sure what appeal it would have to the everyday reader.
I feel that part of the reason that The Glass Bead Game resonated with me emotionally was the biography format. Firstly, this means that the structure is a bit on the odd side. While you'd normally get world-building and side stories woven throughout the narrative, the structure means that the main narrative is preceded by a general history of the glass bead game, and appended by the collected writings of the main character. As such, Joseph's story doesn't begin until page 47 and ends on page 425 out of 558. While I can understand wanting to use a format like a biography for immersion purposes, but it does feel very strange and disjointed. Secondly, I found that the academic tone meant that at times it does get very dense and slow-going. If you're looking for a book that challenges you, then this probably won't be a huge problem, but I could see it being a barrier for those looking for something lighter or more traditional.
For me personally, I found this more interesting in relation to the rest of his work, especially considering that my prior focus on his work was to do with identity and growth. If you're already a fan of Hesse's work, then The Glass Bead Game has some interesting parallels to other protagonists from his earlier work. I wouldn't start off with this if you've never read Hesse though, as it has a bit of a steep adjustment curve.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this to everyone, but if you're already a fan of Hesse's work, or you're willing to look past a rather disjointed and dense experience, then you could probably gain something from this. If you're looking for an introduction to Hesse's work though, I would recommend one of his earlier works before you tackle The Glass Bead Game. 3.5/5

Next review: The Dice Man by Luke Rhinehart

Signing off,

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

While I wasn't as enthused about the last installment as I had perhaps hoped, I was still quite looking forward to reading Wyrd Sisters, as Pratchett was definitely getting into the setting last time and I wanted to see what he would do with the witches as characters instead. 

Following the murder of the King of Lancre, the duplicitous Duke and his wife are determined to remove any evidence of their crime. This would normally mean killing off the late King's infant heir, but the infant ends up being protected by three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick. This intervention on their part is only the beginning, as forces beyond their control conspire to push them into bringing the rightful heir to the throne. 
I had met Granny Weatherwax previously in the Discworld novels, but she works so well against other witches, especially Nanny Ogg. Even if the plot of Wyrd Sisters had been as weak as the last Discworld novel, it would have been well worth it for pretty much every scene that the witches are in. There aren't enough words to convey just how much these three characters work together, and I think I could possibly have been happy just reading their scenes. As it is, the rest of the plot is really quite strong, with some interesting riffs on the Macbeth style of coup d'etats that the story focuses on, and the beginning of a rather sweet romance. 
Honestly, I think the only weakness is that the parts dealing specifically with the acting troupe don't really work for me as much. But even that is kind of a stretch, seeing as they are still very entertaining and only really suffer for not having witches in it. 

Probably my favourite thus far. I would definitely bear with the weaker entries in the early part of the series if only for this entry. The witches are absolutely the best part of this and their chemistry would sell the book for me alone. The fact that the plot is pretty strong is an added bonus really. 5/5 

Next review: The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse 

Signing off,