The Classics Reclamation Project is my personal challenge to read and enjoy the classics. Each Wednesday, I post about the classic I’m reading at the moment.
Last week, I posted about my potential love for The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by the wonderful Stephen Mitchell, which I was reading for my IRL book group. I was loving the writing and the way the book dipped back and forth between fuzzy present impressions and straightforward childhood memories.
Sadly, I did not enjoy the second half of the book nearly as much. The pretty, sparkling passages that delighted me in the first half petered out. The memories, which started out so clear, got muddled. The present, which was already hazy, got downright confusing. I lost my footing in the murk of this seemingly different style.
The book reads very much like a diary, though not the kind in which daily occurrences are dutifully noted. The “notebooks” are made up not so much of chapters, but of sections, the way a journal might look if one neglected to note the date or start a new page with each successive entry. As one might expect, there wasn’t much of a narrative arc. That was fine with me for the first half, when the scenes each made a kind of sense. In the second half, though, without that tenuous coherency, I felt like very little was holding the book together.
It’s interesting to note, as the introduction to my edition pointed out, that Rilke himself was living alone in Paris when this novel was published, like Malte does in the book. Some aspects of the novel are actually semi-autobiographical. This fact increased my intellectual interest in the book, but it did nothing to warm my heart to Malte and his notebooks.
Honestly, had I not had a reason beyond my own enjoyment to read The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, I’d most likely have stopped half way through. It’s a book that just screams to have a paper written about it, or have a class taught on it, or be picked apart with a fine-toothed comb, none of which I’m in the mood to do. I do think this book will provide interesting fodder for a book group discussion and am looking forward to our meeting, which is scheduled for tonight.
I’m not judging Rilke solely on the basis of The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. It was his only novel, so it clearly was not his primary format. I’m thinking his second chance will be Letters to a Young Poet…that seems like a safe bet!