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With his epic trilogy, The Sleepwalkers, Hermann Broch established himself as one of the great innovators of modern literature, a visionary writer-philosopher the equal of James Joyce, Thomas Mann, or Robert Musil. Even as he grounded his narratives in the intimate daily life of Germany, Broch was identifying the oceanic changes that would shortly sweep that life into the With his epic trilogy, The Sleepwalkers, Hermann Broch established himself as one of the great innovators of modern literature, a visionary writer-philosopher the equal of James Joyce, Thomas Mann, or Robert Musil. Even as he grounded his narratives in the intimate daily life of Germany, Broch was identifying the oceanic changes that would shortly sweep that life into the abyss. Whether he is writing about a neurotic army officer The Romantic, a disgruntled bookkeeper and would-be assassin The Anarchist, or an opportunistic war-deserter The Realist, Broch immerses himself in the twists of his characters psyches, and at the same time soars above them, to produce a prophetic portrait of a world tormented by its loss of faith, morals, and reason.


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With his epic trilogy, The Sleepwalkers, Hermann Broch established himself as one of the great innovators of modern literature, a visionary writer-philosopher the equal of James Joyce, Thomas Mann, or Robert Musil. Even as he grounded his narratives in the intimate daily life of Germany, Broch was identifying the oceanic changes that would shortly sweep that life into the With his epic trilogy, The Sleepwalkers, Hermann Broch established himself as one of the great innovators of modern literature, a visionary writer-philosopher the equal of James Joyce, Thomas Mann, or Robert Musil. Even as he grounded his narratives in the intimate daily life of Germany, Broch was identifying the oceanic changes that would shortly sweep that life into the abyss. Whether he is writing about a neurotic army officer The Romantic, a disgruntled bookkeeper and would-be assassin The Anarchist, or an opportunistic war-deserter The Realist, Broch immerses himself in the twists of his characters psyches, and at the same time soars above them, to produce a prophetic portrait of a world tormented by its loss of faith, morals, and reason.

30 review for The Sleepwalkers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    There are some books that are not much read but nonetheless they serve as a kind of Bethlehem star for the whole literary movements and The Sleepwalkers is one of those. Driven by that extraordinary oppression which falls on every human being when, childhood over, he begins to divine that he is fated to go on in isolation and unaided towards his own death; driven by this extraordinary oppression, which may with justice be called a fear of God, man looks round him for a companion hand in hand with There are some books that are not much read but nonetheless they serve as a kind of Bethlehem star for the whole literary movements and The Sleepwalkers is one of those. Driven by that extraordinary oppression which falls on every human being when, childhood over, he begins to divine that he is fated to go on in isolation and unaided towards his own death; driven by this extraordinary oppression, which may with justice be called a fear of God, man looks round him for a companion hand in hand with whom he may tread the road to the dark portal… The novel is full of fresh ideas and it institutes a new approach to reality: the beautiful romanticism of the old is dying (The Romantic), the dream of the purifying power of anarchy is fruitless and morbid (The Anarchist), and the only thing that remains is the eerie, roily and bleak actuality (The Realist). We didn’t choose the world we were born into…

  2. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    Hermann Broch is another of those early twentieth century Austro-Hungarian writers whose works I have discovered and devoured over the past decade. Though not as famous as Franz Kafka and Robert Musil, his work is right up there with them in its caliber and depth. His magnum opus was the stunning hallucinatory prose poem The Death of Virgil, but The Sleepwalkers—more in the vein of Musil's A Man Without Qualities—is another extraordinary work of art. German language novels from the dawn of the mo Hermann Broch is another of those early twentieth century Austro-Hungarian writers whose works I have discovered and devoured over the past decade. Though not as famous as Franz Kafka and Robert Musil, his work is right up there with them in its caliber and depth. His magnum opus was the stunning hallucinatory prose poem The Death of Virgil, but The Sleepwalkers—more in the vein of Musil's A Man Without Qualities—is another extraordinary work of art. German language novels from the dawn of the modern age are not entertaining beach reads, and several people I have recommended this book to found it dreadfully boring and impossible to finish. To others—myself included—these works, which plumb the depths to explore the societal changes that were forming themselves at the time, are fascinating and hard to put down. The translation is by the Muirs, of Kafka fame, who render here another superb and elegant version for those of us who cannot, sadly, read the book in its native tongue. The novel is divided into three parts, each exploring an aspect of the struggles of different classes and people in Germany to deal with the flux in morals, mammon and modernity as the twentieth century was dawning and the old world was passing on. The first part, The Romantic, details the personal conflicts of a Prussian nobleman, Von Pasenow, as he tries to avoid the dangerous and seductive lures of liberal society and maintain the faith and tradition of the Junkers. The second book, The Anarchist, moves us to the Rhineland, where we follow the peregrinations of Esch up and down the great river, seeking better work and seething against the perceived class war in Germany, and the corruption and ethical laxity of the rich capitalists who have risen to economic power. The third part, The Realist, brings us Von Pasenow and Esch, each older and scarred, in a small town in the Eifel Highlands in Germany, bordering Belgium, during the First World War. They are beset by Huguenau, an Alsatian deserter from the German Army and a thoroughly modern businessman, devoid of scruples or morals, determined to live his life using reason and reason alone. Broch is lamenting the turn that German and Austrian society was taking. As the novel's denoument approaches, Von Pasenow and Esch rise to the occasion—even the old anarchist is moved by his moral compass towards heroism, whilst Huguenau, looking out for number one from dawn till dusk, can only see in heroism the irrational lure of suicide. Hueguenau survives the war—indeed, comes out of it a wealthy man; but what, actually, has he won? There is an act of injustice, a remorseless betrayal by the Alsatian, that will have any red-blooded reader seething—but Broch offers no pat endings or comforting answers to his questions. As he posits: The great question remains: how can an individual whose ideas have been genuinely directed towards other aims understand and accommodate himself to the implications and reality of dying? This is not a book of action or important events: it is a slow, detailed study of its characters, their milieu, and their way of dealing with the massive changes coursing through Germany and Europe. It probes and prods, and moves at a leisured pace. Broch is a brilliant writer, and he has produced a brilliant book. When desire and aims meet and merge, when dreams begin to foreshadow the great moments and crises of life, the road narrows then into darker gorges, and the prophetic dream of death enshrouds the man who has hitherto walked dreaming in sleep...The man who from afar off yearns for his wife or merely for the home of his childhood has begun his sleepwalking.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I find the compartments that this trilogy is supposed to be fit into–The Romantic, The Anarchist, and The Realist–less worthy of mention than the inner insanity that Broch capably delineates through his three protagonists–Pasenow, Esch, and Huguenau. For me, the human commentary will always take precedence over the historical or social. It is the juxtaposition of that inner insanity with the yielded outer perspective, the surface that rest of the world is given to perceive, that makes one wonder I find the compartments that this trilogy is supposed to be fit into–The Romantic, The Anarchist, and The Realist–less worthy of mention than the inner insanity that Broch capably delineates through his three protagonists–Pasenow, Esch, and Huguenau. For me, the human commentary will always take precedence over the historical or social. It is the juxtaposition of that inner insanity with the yielded outer perspective, the surface that rest of the world is given to perceive, that makes one wonder whether that surface is also all that the proprietor of that inner insanity perceives–as if by some sleight we all blind ourselves to all but that perfectly normal, perfectly human outer shell. That is to say, it is that Broch manages this polarity most capably (and most blatantly with the Pasenow section) by which one is almost tempted to syllogize: if people can be so delusional, neurotic, disposed to habit and whim, and yet appear to be normal, and if all people I see in my world appear more or less likewise normally, then they too might be so ruled by delusion, habit and neuroses. From which it is a small step to ask, ‘Might not I be counted among them?’ I’ll say it is a good book that can get you into this conversation with yourself. The Sleepwalkers is not just a good book. It is another one of those great books whose greatness is perhaps a little defined, perhaps a little tainted by its ability to make the reader aware of how great it could (I’ll stop short of saying should–as everyone should) be and thus, unavoidably, how great it is not. In my opinion it suffers from a lack of cohesion around its major themes–most major of which is the the disintegration (meaning division or perversion more than destruction) of values. Experimentation of style–mostly in book III–seems to be the primary means of injecting this philosophy, and this, for being a poor way of integrating the theme, I would say makes a clever meta-comment on the theme (disintegration) itself, that is I would say, if something in the text could lead me to believe that it was done intentionally for this purpose rather than as the path of lesser resistance. Rather than belaboring the painstaking way through the integration of his philosophy into the narrative, Broch seems content to grab the crutches and go. As a result, the style of the philosophical sections and that of the narrative itself veer sharply from one another. The venn diagram of readers who can stomach the academic, and yet not all that rigorous, philosophical jargon and those who would tolerate the too often too slow, too often too divergent plot developments, flaunts little overlap. Besides essay, styles of verse and dramatic scene handicap the overall flow and presentation. A little play in which the author seems content to let his characters finish each other’s sentences was particularly nauseating. But onto the good: Reading the Pasenow and Esch sections one could almost conclude that adulthood is a plague in which giant children have had the misfortune of taking themselves seriously. Pasenow, at least, has had the luck to have more than a passing acquaintance with the sage in sheep’s clothing, Bertrand–who single handedly evokes comparisons to Musil’s Ulrich (i.e. the ever wise man without qualities). Esch’s association with the same Bertrand is teasingly slight and by the same token his trials comparatively boring. At the same time the Esch section is an impressive delineation of the caprice that shape a man’s life–a concatenation of stimuli and reactionary whim that serve as an explication of his illusory self-control. All three sections impressively end with its protagonist–Pasenow and Esch in defeat and Huguenau in a kind of triumph–settling into an empty prescription of salvation: “Joachim (Pasenow) was silent; it was with reluctance that he took up this thought that hung cold and bewildering between them: “He is remote…he thrusts us all away, for God wills us to be solitary.” “He does, indeed,” said Elizabeth, and it was not to be determined whether she had referred to God or Bertrand; but that ceased to matter, since the solitude prescribed for her and Joachim now begun to encompass them, and froze the room, in spite of its intimate elegance, into a more complete and dreadful immobility; as they sat motionless, both of them, it seemed as if the room widened around them; as the walls receded the air seemed to grow colder and thinner, so thin that it could barely carry a voice. And although everything was tranced in immobility, yet the chairs, the piano, on whose black-lacquered surface the wreath of gas-jets was still reflected, seemed no longer in their usual places, but infinitely remote, and even the golden dragons and butterflies on the black Chinese screen in the corner had flitted away as if drawn after the receding walls, which now looked as if hung with black curtains. The gas-lights hissed with a faint, malicious susurration, and except for their infinitesimal mechanical vivacity, that jetted fleeringly from obscenely open small slits, all life was extinguished.” Such is the state of things as Pasenow and Elizabeth are engaged. While the partnership between Esch and Mother Hentjen ends with the line: “He still sometimes beat her, but less and less and finally not at all.” As if we are to read, ‘until death do they part,’ in that “finally”. And even if it is the most flawed section, the last seems quite right in ending contrastingly. Huguenau accomplishes about everything he tries for, for which we can be sure he is just as miserable as those who went before him. Not a book for the Optimist’s Club. Alas there is no Lemon Law for our dreams.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Hermann Broch was evidently a writer for the literary philosophers or philosophical literati of Central Europe. Hannah Arendt wrote an introduction for the translation I read, and Milan Kundera wrote an essay about him. "The Sleepwalkers" takes on the fragmentation of German culture between 1888 and 1918, with an middle act in 1903. The period is suspiciously close to the period of modern German monarchy, engineered by Bismarck in 1881 and dismantled by revolution in 1918 (Broch wrote the book b Hermann Broch was evidently a writer for the literary philosophers or philosophical literati of Central Europe. Hannah Arendt wrote an introduction for the translation I read, and Milan Kundera wrote an essay about him. "The Sleepwalkers" takes on the fragmentation of German culture between 1888 and 1918, with an middle act in 1903. The period is suspiciously close to the period of modern German monarchy, engineered by Bismarck in 1881 and dismantled by revolution in 1918 (Broch wrote the book between 1928 and 1932). Act I, in 1888, narrates in the literary style of the late 19th century, the tribulations of the military aristocrat Joachim von Pasenow who grapples with his dictatorial father, his manipulative friend Bertrand, and his superior older brother, conveniently dead in battle. It is so 19th century that it has the feel of the misogyny of Tolstoy's shorter works--how the lusty peasant girl (in von Pasenow's case a Czech music hall girl) lures the hero away from the decidedly cooler charms of his eligible female peers. Act II belongs to the sneaky August Esch, who is that most incredible of all things, an accountant with revolutionary leanings. All the talk comes to nothing; the most revolutionary things he does are to walk out on unsatisfactory jobs, start a "theater" that features a knife-throwing act, and seduce his affianced landlady. Act III takes place as the defeated German monarchy descends into chaos, uniting von Pasenow, now a comfortable bourgeois, and Esch, who runs a newspaper, as they confront someone even less appealing, the murderous, larcenous deserter Hugeneau, who bests both of them. In the third section, Broch flaunts his experimental side as a contemporary of Joyce, Faulkner, Musil and others--Hugeneau's story alternates with the stories of yet another character (at least this time a woman), poetry about a Salvation Army girl, and dreary essays on the decline of values. If "Ulysses" and "The Sound and the Fury", for all their self-conscious virtuosity, show what the multi-voiced, multi-genre novel can achieve, Broch in "The Sleepwalkers" demonstrates its limits.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Alejandro Teruel

    This is an extraordinary trilogy of novels written between 1928 and 1932 set in 1888 (“The Romantic”, 1903 (“The Anarchist”) and 1918 (“The Realist”). The trilogy is a profound and disquieting reflection on the dis-integration of values that ushers in the peculiarly logical but ultimately irrational and ferocious twentieth century value-systems. As the trilogy progresses it becomes increasingly complex and the third novel, with its trans-genre pastiche of fiction and philosophical essay, and to This is an extraordinary trilogy of novels written between 1928 and 1932 set in 1888 (“The Romantic”, 1903 (“The Anarchist”) and 1918 (“The Realist”). The trilogy is a profound and disquieting reflection on the dis-integration of values that ushers in the peculiarly logical but ultimately irrational and ferocious twentieth century value-systems. As the trilogy progresses it becomes increasingly complex and the third novel, with its trans-genre pastiche of fiction and philosophical essay, and to an unsuccessful and lesser degree poetry and theater, and its use of irony is not only thoroughly modernist but even clearly -albeit despairingly- points the way forwards to postmodernism. It is hard to do the trilogy justice in a review, precisely because it is so rich, so layered, so polytonal; so many events and characters echo others yet most story lines remain maddeningly parallel, since their main characters live their lives like the sleepwalkers they are, encapsulated in their separate dream worlds. Thus, I prefer to refer the reader to four outstanding writings on this trilogy: (1) Stephen Spender´s 1948 review Nightmare and redemption in Commentary Magazine (https://www.commentarymagazine.com/ar... (2) Jean-Michel Rabaté´s brilliant essay Joyce and Broch: Or, Who was the Crocodile? (Comparative Literature Studies, Summer 1982), which can be read online at Jstor; (3) The New York Times Book Reviews 1985 review “In search of the absolute novel” by Theodore Ziolkowski (http://www.williamgaddis.org/jr/broch...) one of whose key perceptive insights is:According to Broch, sleepwalkers are people living between vanishing and emerging ethical systems, just as the somnambulist exists in a state between sleeping and walking(4) The 2012 essay by Miguel (St. Oberose) at http://storberose.blogspot.com/2012/1... For the time being I will merely add some makeshift notes on some aspects of the trilogy and its relation to other works. Note 1: From Kundera and Musil to Broch -or is it the other way around?.... To understand the trilogy, I would recommend coming to it only after reading and enjoying at the very least Kundera´s Laughable Loves and Musil´s The Man without Qualities. Kundera devotes a complete chapter of his Art of the Novel to The Sleepwalkers and clearly admires Broch. Even though Kundera´s writings flow and apparently effortless ease, and Broch is much more of an ordeal, yet Broch pulls off Kundera´s exact same tone when he writes about Lieutenant Jaretzki and Surgeon-General Kühlenbeck which seem role models for the insatiable Dr. Havel in Laughable Loves. For example here is the one-armed, irreverent and tipsy Jaretzki briefly explaining how he feels impelled to drink:“...but I tell you this, Flurschütz, and I say it in all seriousness: give me some some other, some new drunkenness, it doesn´t matter what as far as I´m concerned, morphia or patriotism or communism or anything else that makes a man drunk...give me something to make me feel we´re all comrades again, and I´ll give up drinking... to-morrow.”Musil´s The Man without Qualities and the exactly contemporaneous The Sleepwalkers, eerily echo each other to the point where characters like Musil´s condemned murderer Moosbrugger seems to be the dream counter-self of Broch´s risen from the dead Ludwig Gödicke -or vice versa... Note 2: The curious case of three engineers turned novelists... Kafka, Musil and Broch form a most curious trio of Austro-Hungarian engineers turned novelists, who in some sense sense and explore the absurdities of modern-life logic and the rise of twentieth century anti-values out of the ashes of nineteenth century petty moralism and overoptimistic reliance on the inexorable march of progress. Musil makes his protagonist Ulrich bitingly wonder what exactly what the newspapers mean when they write about a “racehorse of genius”, while Broch writes:The unreal is the illogical. And this age seems to have a capacity for surpassing even the acme of illogicality, of anti-logicality; it is as if the monstrous reality of the war had blotted out the reality of the world. Fantasy had become logical reality, but reality evolves the most a-logical phantasmagoria. An age that is softer and more cowardly than any preceding age suffocates in waves of blood and poison gas; nations of bank clerks and profiteers hurl themselves on barbed wire; a well organized humanitarianism avails to hinder nothing, but calls itself the Red Cross and prepares artificial limbs for the victims; towns starve and coin money out of their own hunger; spectacled school-teachers lead storm-troops; city dweller live in caves; factory hands and other civilians crawl out on reconnoitering duty, and in the end, once they are back in safety, apply their artificial limbs once more to the making of profits. Amid a blurring of all forms, in a twilight of apathetic uncertainty brooding over a ghostly world, man like a lost child gropes his way by the help of a small frail thread of logic through a dream landscape that he calls reality and that is nothing but a nightmare to him.Small wonder that he exclaims, in the same kind of paradoxical terms applied by the entranced surrealists or worthy of the theater of the absurd:Are we, then, insane because we have not gone mad?But Broch goes further than this, he sees the modern world as a world single-mindedly, logically and insanely bent on pursuing disconnected, splintered, narrow value-systems:...the logic of the businessman demands that all commercial resources shall be exploited with the utmost rigour and efficiency to bring about the destruction of all competition and the sole domination of his own business, whether that be a trading house or a factory or a company or other economic body: the logic of the painter demands that the principles of painting shall be followed to their conclusions with the utmost rigour and thoroughness, at the peril of producing pictures which are completely esoteric, and comprehensible only by those who produce them: the logic of the revolutionist demands that the revolutionary impulse shall be pursued with the utmost rigour and thoroughness for the achievement of a revolution as an end in itself, as, indeed, the logic of politicians in general demands that they shall obtain an absolute dictatorship for their political aims: the logic of the bourgeois climber demands that the watchword “enrichessez-vous” shall be followed with the most absolute and uncompromising rigour: in this fashion, in this absolute devotion to logical rigour, the Western world has won its achievements, -and with the same thoroughness, the absolute thoroughness that abrogates itself, must it eventually advance ad absurdum: war is war, l´art pour l´art, in politics there´s no room for compunction, business is business, -all these signify the same thing, all these appertain to the same aggressive and radical spirit, informed by that uncanny, I might also say that metaphysical, lack of consideration for consequences, that ruthless logic directed on the object and on the object alone, which looks neither to the right nor to the left; and this, all this, is the style of thinking that characterizes our age. [...The single value systems] have separated from one other, now run parallel to each other, and, since they can no longer combine in the service of a supreme value, claim equality with the other: like strangers they exist side by side, an economic value-system of “good business” next to an aesthetic one one of l´art pour l´art, a military code of values side by side with a technical or an athletic, each autonomous, each “in and for itself”, each “unfettered” in its autonomy, each resolved to push home with radical thoroughness the final conclusions of its logic and to break its own record. And woe to the others, if in this conflict of systems that precariously maintain an equilibrium one should gain the preponderance and overtop all the rest, as the military system does in war, or as the economic system is now doing, a system to which even war is subordinate, -woe to the others! For the triumphant system will embrace the whole of the world, it will overwhelm all other values and exterminate them as a cloud of locusts lays waste a field. But man, who was once the image of God, the mirror of a universal value created by himself [...] is helplessly caught in the mechanism of the autonomous value-systems, and can do nothing but submit to the particular value that has become his profession, he can do nothing but become a function of that value -a specialist, eaten up by the radical logic of the value into whose jaws he has fallen.Note 3: Insanity and irrationality in The Sleepwalkers A great many characters either become insane, are borderline insane or have psychotic episodes in the trilogy, starting with the first character who appears in the book, Herr Helmuth von Pasenow, Joachim´s father for whom people “...felt an extraordinary and inexplicable repulsion when they saw him coming at them in their streets of Berlin. Joachim´s acquaintance Bertrand, is in fact appears to be the unwitting but historically logical catalyst for insanity throughout the first two novels, since Joachim´s father and his mistress Ruzena who clearly mistrusts Bertrand and considers him in her poor German a “bad friend” to Joachim, become insane after dealing with Bertrand, not to mention Joachim himself whose alienation under his tightly buttoned up army uniform becomes increasingly clear as the first novel progresses. Esch´s paranoid irascibility and resentment bursts into the trilogy from the second novel´s first page rises in crescendo in his lurching and winding road from book-keeper to female wrestling impresario until his final hallucinatory attempt on the source of all evil that the aged and dying Bertrand represents for him. In the third novel, insanity and irrationality is rife as Esch turns up, as irascible as always, metamorphosed into a newspaper printer, editor and free thinker who suddenly “catches” religion from that most unlikely of sources, Joachim von Pasenow now a major and the town army commandant ends up echoing his father´s senility, just as alienated Hanna Wendling last typhoid or influenza fever hallucinations echo Esch´s hallucinatory stream of consciousness episode towards end of the second novel. Ironically Esch the suspicious paranoid is swindled by one of his female wrestling partners at the end of the second novel and by that ferociously cold-blooded epitome of a business man, Huguenau, who ends up by quite literally taking everything away from Esch at the apocalyptic end of war. There are further strands of insanity and irrationality in the narrator of the story of the Salvation Army girl in Berlin and the soldiers being treated for gas poisoning in the town hospital. All this irrationality is, for Broch, the logical consequence of arbitrarily delimited value-systems Huguenau did not think of what he had done, and still less did he recognize the irrationality that had pervaded his actions [...] a man never knows anything about the irrationality that informs his wordless actions [...] he cannot know anything about it, since at every moment he is ruled by some system of values that has no other aim but to conceal and control all the irrationality on which his earthbound empirical life is based.[...] irrationality not only supports every value-system -for the spontaneous act of positing a value, on which the value-system is based is an irrational act -but it informs the whole general feeling of every age, the feeling which assures the prevalence of the value-system, and which both in its origin and in its nature is insusceptible to rational evidence.In short, a great but difficult twentieth century pessimistic masterpiece, not be taken up lightly which will reward close rereading.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liam

    Avoid. Here's a 1-2* rant review of why I DNF'ed at page 24 (it starts on page 9, so really page 15). The story's foundation is soiled. You absolutely cannot base a character's origin on an unrealistic portrayal of good vs. evil. The story begins by introducing a characteristically short man who has spider-like movements with his cane — a truly repugnant father — who disrespects and ignores his wife. He takes his son to the casino, which is really more of a strip club, and decides, in front of mil Avoid. Here's a 1-2* rant review of why I DNF'ed at page 24 (it starts on page 9, so really page 15). The story's foundation is soiled. You absolutely cannot base a character's origin on an unrealistic portrayal of good vs. evil. The story begins by introducing a characteristically short man who has spider-like movements with his cane — a truly repugnant father — who disrespects and ignores his wife. He takes his son to the casino, which is really more of a strip club, and decides, in front of military soldiers who also happen to be there, that he and his son should take two prostitutes together, and insinuates that maybe his son should have a serious relationship with one of them (marriage?). Clearly the son, and everyone, despises the father. Now it's well-written and these sentences flow well together and are complex. But I forsee the next 600+ pages, three novellas in a trilogy, together, being about the son retaliating against this fabrication of an evil father. The foundation is flawed — no married man, not even the most damned married man, would ever take his young son to a stripper. It just seems like a bad thing for Hermann Broch to even suggest as an author. He's playing on a trope of what bad men should do, but twisting it to unrealistic extremes. It makes me distrust the realism of whatever he wants to tell us as readers, perhaps about the son growing into a better man as a counterpoint to this fabrication. He's exaggerating already unhealthy stereotypes. My personal gripe was the suggestion that the father's depravity is characteristic of short men, right from the first page. "who could not comprehend how any woman could ever have looked upon him or embraced him with desire in her eyes; and at most they would allow him only the Polish maids on his estate, and held that even these he must have got round by that slightly hysterical and yet arrogant aggressiveness which is often characteristic of small men." "For nobody who had a serious end in view could walk like that [...] and one was terrified by the intuition that it was a devil's walk [...]" I don't like that he equates evil with ugliness, and judges so heavily and immediately on outward characteristics. It's petty to discriminate so dispassionately against those less fortunately endowed. It'd be like a book that mocks a girl for being too tall, or anyone for being too fat, or a certain skin colour... if it's ever going to be done, it needs to have the right tone or intention. This seemingly impartial narrator has all the immediacy and hastiness in judgement as any vocal component of hate speech. I don't want to be told about love and life from the same voice which casts such a monstrous character into existence without fair judgement — it is a lazy counterpoint for the character development that I'm sure makes up the rest of this journey. And I was beginning to see the son's retaliation in clothing, how unlike all the other officers who wore sloppy uniform he kept it smart. I thought how trite a metaphor for morality after that waste of an introduction — and if the son truly felt at odds with a corrupt society would he at his lowest military rank immediately retaliate openly against the enemy? Where is the sense in that? To destroy a bad system you need to infiltrate, to build a secret union or a public rank, before you can begin signalling opposition. Otherwise you will be smited before your time — perhaps that was the next plot event. Even if it wasn't, by this point, I didn't care to know. I'll bet most readers who love this book immediately forget the basis for this story. They let it slide and follow along with the story. They sit and watch this character grow for 600 pages and think what a lifetime of development they have witnessed. How marvelous. They forget that it began and was initiated by this mistake of a reality. Broch makes this character origin story short, and speeds past it to hope readers forget how stupid a portrayal of corruption it was. But, as a reader, I don't forget. And so, I choose to walk away from this. — Other smaller factors for DNF: -I can't not read Joachim as 'Joe-a-Kim'. Try as I might, my brain always says that, and it's irritating! -The prostitute had the same name as my most recent ex-girlfriend. I didn't want 600+ pages of that. -I'd have to read this in a week, 70+ pages a day, based on my non-renewable library loan. It'd be asking a lot. -I have better books I'd rather read, both of which are ARC reviews, so I have higher priorities. -I'm tired of Chaotic Age literature from Germany. I think I 'get it' now. I'll come back for Grass, Musil and Mann later in my life, but for now, I don't care for it. -This is my first piece of evidence that Michael Orthofer has no idea what he is talking about. This book cannot be the gold standard of literature with such a flawed introduction. It could still well be a 4* story, but the introduction is irredeemably imperfect.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lee Foust

    Well, it's been more than a month since I finished reading this epic novel and I despair of getting it together to write a review doing it any sort of justice. I finished it mostly on the plane and then during the jet lag period after my return to Italy from San Francisco, which is, for me, a yearly process, and often I'm just too fuzzy in that re-adjustment period to get my thoughts in order and say something brilliant. At first I thought this novel was setting up the terrain from which Nazism g Well, it's been more than a month since I finished reading this epic novel and I despair of getting it together to write a review doing it any sort of justice. I finished it mostly on the plane and then during the jet lag period after my return to Italy from San Francisco, which is, for me, a yearly process, and often I'm just too fuzzy in that re-adjustment period to get my thoughts in order and say something brilliant. At first I thought this novel was setting up the terrain from which Nazism grew--although I see now that it was written really a bit too soon to explicitly be that. Even so, it resonated a lot with me in this new surge of Nazi-like "populism" in Hungry, Turkey, Brazil, Italy, and particularly the USA. The second of the three inter-connected novels that make up The Sleepwalkers focuses on a middle class character I felt while reading could easily represent that mindset of economic frustration and the urge to manufacture justice through violent upheaval that's behind most of these authoritarian movements. It's a combination of outrage, egotism, and an urge to scapegoat (usually immigrants or an "alien" race, but here more pointedly, a rich homosexual) that fuels these narcissistic "patriots" to emulate the righteous rebels of the past in the name of greater and greater social control by the state which they alternately idolize and despise. They rebel against themselves and seek their own and others' social repression always in the name of purity and some sort of vague nostalgia for their nation's past glories. Beyond the politics that, to me, inspired the panorama of characters of the three connected narratives (a nobleman, a middle class terrorist, and finally an opportunistic capitalist), the prose here, the patience, the long narrative game that this novel plays is just stunning--a real literary triumph. I feel like I need to read it again to even unlock half of its wisdom. I highly recommend it, but only if you have the leisure to enjoy a good long, dense read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tamar Nagel

    This book had all the signs of being one I would like.. Austrian author with a background in math/science, intellectual, a bit dense, titled "Great European Novel," etc... I was disappointed not because of my high expectations but because the book was alienating to me in a way that the writing of Musil, Bernhard, Zweig, or either one of the Mann brothers is not. This is a bit crude, but essentially it felt like a book written by a dude for dudes about dudes. It was trying too hard, and the deep This book had all the signs of being one I would like.. Austrian author with a background in math/science, intellectual, a bit dense, titled "Great European Novel," etc... I was disappointed not because of my high expectations but because the book was alienating to me in a way that the writing of Musil, Bernhard, Zweig, or either one of the Mann brothers is not. This is a bit crude, but essentially it felt like a book written by a dude for dudes about dudes. It was trying too hard, and the deep philosophizing bits just annoyed me and fell flat. It was the kind of book that I felt like an "intellectual" guy would use to show me that he "understands" and "appreciates" literature. Still, it was much better than say, Infinite Jest, which to me is the pinnacle of the aforementioned male intellectual literature-ego. I did appreciate the structure of the novel; and like all Austrian novels of this type, it does a wonderful job describing the transition into the modern world and in many ways it explains the splintering of Europe over the course of the 20th century. Basically the last 50 pages were really good and I almost gave this 4 stars because of that. It is definitely worth a read and I'll be reading more of Broch, but first I think I'll take a break from the dude stuff and read Eudora Welty instead.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cooper Renner

    Closer to 3.5 stars. I can't claim to have read every word of this lengthy three-part novel, but certainly I read almost all of it. In the third and longest section, Broch interweaves a series of chapters which are at heart theoretical philosophical discussions--the kind of thing that some readers love and which leaves me absolutely unable to keep my eyes on the page. Otherwise, book 3 is far and away the most direct and interesting part of the novel, a careful symphony of characters and lives r Closer to 3.5 stars. I can't claim to have read every word of this lengthy three-part novel, but certainly I read almost all of it. In the third and longest section, Broch interweaves a series of chapters which are at heart theoretical philosophical discussions--the kind of thing that some readers love and which leaves me absolutely unable to keep my eyes on the page. Otherwise, book 3 is far and away the most direct and interesting part of the novel, a careful symphony of characters and lives reflecting in some way the concept of people sleepwalking through the world. The first two books are heavy going, "realistic" narratives completely laden down with internalized explications and motivations: again, something that many readers love, but which impresses me as woefully overdone. Allegedly much (all?) of this is parody of 19th century naturalism, but if so, the parody is much too long. Even so, what is good here is very very good indeed. Overwrought (books 1 and 2) or lean (book 3), these are smart investigations of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the German-speaking world.

  10. 5 out of 5

    James Henderson

    This is the epitome of the "philosophical" novel. In the novel Broch explains the decline of values beginning with Joachim von Pasenow's hesitation between a lower-class mistress and a noble fiance in the first part. The story ends in Joachim's wedding night when both he and Elisabeth are afraid of a possible physical act of love and they finally find deliverance in his falling asleep. Pasenow is sure of his virtues and their meaning. Esch too knows about such virtues as justice or fidelity but i This is the epitome of the "philosophical" novel. In the novel Broch explains the decline of values beginning with Joachim von Pasenow's hesitation between a lower-class mistress and a noble fiance in the first part. The story ends in Joachim's wedding night when both he and Elisabeth are afraid of a possible physical act of love and they finally find deliverance in his falling asleep. Pasenow is sure of his virtues and their meaning. Esch too knows about such virtues as justice or fidelity but ignores their substance; that is why he can be both faithful and unfaithful, and can think of murder or denunciation to find their sense. Amoral Huguenau's only criterion is profit and he follows this maxim in all his actions. He swindles and murders without remorse and his dealings bring him finally to the zero point of values, a state when old values have disappeared and the new ones have not been created. This is a massive book that has had an impact on artists as disparate as Milan Kundera and Michelangelo Antonioni.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Feliks

    Writing this review already even though I am just a few pages in; but already I can tell this is going to be a fabulous read. The topics treated so far; and the refined, highly-polished prose...this looks like an extremely savory dish. The author has a voice very much like some of my favorite European writers: Thomas Mann and perhaps Stendhal. It's a novel of manners and psychology, a cultural history. Plus, the topic is Germany--the most savage, the most repulsive, the most fascinating of natio Writing this review already even though I am just a few pages in; but already I can tell this is going to be a fabulous read. The topics treated so far; and the refined, highly-polished prose...this looks like an extremely savory dish. The author has a voice very much like some of my favorite European writers: Thomas Mann and perhaps Stendhal. It's a novel of manners and psychology, a cultural history. Plus, the topic is Germany--the most savage, the most repulsive, the most fascinating of nations. In just one chapter I am already hearing anecdotes and ruminations on dueling scars, monocles, walking-canes, greatcoats, women in laced-corsets and coiffeured hairdos...maidservants, horses, kidneys, schnapps, Alsation hunting dogs..bravo! Hurrah!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael David

    ‘Amid a blurring of all forms, in a twilight of apathetic uncertainty brooding over a ghostly world, man like a lost child gropes his way by the help of a small frail thread of logic through a dream landscape that he calls reality and that is nothing but a nightmare to him.’ (p. 373) I read Joyce’s Ulysses a few years ago. I was glad that I finished the damn thing, but was quite unimpressed. Was the towering novel of the modernist movement just about utter crap? I’ve read analyses of the ‘Amid a blurring of all forms, in a twilight of apathetic uncertainty brooding over a ghostly world, man like a lost child gropes his way by the help of a small frail thread of logic through a dream landscape that he calls reality and that is nothing but a nightmare to him.’ (p. 373) I read Joyce’s Ulysses a few years ago. I was glad that I finished the damn thing, but was quite unimpressed. Was the towering novel of the modernist movement just about utter crap? I’ve read analyses of the novel, and my impression that it was really just one big fart joke cloaked in stylish linguistic experimentation remains the same. I think this stems from the belief that novels are, first and foremost, written to tell a good story: I don’t think one day of sex escapades among the major characters qualifies as a good story. This is where Broch’s Sleepwalkers differs. To paraphrase The Dark Knight, The Sleepwalkers is the novel that modernism deserves, but Ulysses was the one it needed. The Sleepwalkers is a silent guardian: most people nowadays remain unfamiliar with Broch or his works. I myself just stumbled upon this novel in a second-hand bookstore, and decided to purchase it because Hannah Arendt introduced the novel. When such a lucid theorist decides to write praises about a novel, it is highly likely that the novel is great. And I absolutely have no regrets: I just think it’s sad that I’ve read a masterpiece so early in the year, because it will be inevitable for me to compare other works by what this novel had achieved for me. The Sleepwalkers is divided into three novels: it’s actually a novel trilogy. Each of the novels illustrate Broch’s ability: the first novel, The Romantic, was written in the tone and mood of tragic romances that appear near the end of the 19th century. It features a romantic, Joachim von Pasenow, who desperately tries to do well despite his own shortcomings. The tragedy in this volume is that while he is physically and passionately in love with a lady below his social standing (Ruzena), circumstances force them to separate because he has to maintain his family honor and accidents disallow them from realizing their love. He marries within his social circle and it is implied through his impotent honeymoon night that it was more of a marriage of convenience than love. Throughout the novel, von Pasenow nevertheless aims to be honorable and chivalrous in his actions. The second novel, The Anarchist, features a book-keeper excellent at book-keeping but is disillusioned with the world. His name is Esch. To illustrate the turmoil and confusion in fin-de-siecle-ish Germany, Broch paints Esch with less consistent values than von Pasenow. Esch is painted as somewhat of a ‘borderline personality:’ there is only good and bad, and there cannot be otherwise. He eschews authority and is amoral, but puts praise in God and also believes in rescuing women from exploitation. He is confused with the values of the world but can still differentiate between good and evil. He renounces Bertrand because Bertrand was a sodomite, and was also the chairman of the firm he was under (thus the title). As he slowly discovers faith in the Christian God, he understands the evil of sodomy and so finally enacts a plan that overthrew Bertrand. Despite much financial loss in his other exploits, he is hired as a head book-keeper in another firm and finally realizes his love for the widow Hentjen. Finally, the third novel, The Realist, manifests an even increasing fragmentation. The chapters are short, and a number of stories are being told with each chapter. Some chapters feature poetry; one features a play; and some chapters are a breakdown of an essay entitled ‘Disintegration of Values.’ (Yes, Broch's humor is very subtle.) The novel also culminates in the destruction through death and dishonor of the novel trilogy’s first two heroes: only the one who was grounded in the grayness of reality and the present could survive in the Germany of the 1910s. The only one who survives, Huguenau, is the one who divests himself of all faith in anything external to him. Esch, who had discovered faith in God through Protestantism, and von Pasenow, who tried to uphold chivalry and honor, are debased and murdered by the man who knew what he wanted and sought it without regard to anything except his own selfishness: the novel prefigures the arrival of the Nazi, and does so excellently. Here’s a quote that shows Broch’s clairvoyance of it: ‘… the average man, whose life moves between his table and his bed, has no ideas whatever, and therefore falls an easy prey to the ideology of hatred -- … and that such narrow lives were bound to be subsumed in the service of any superpersonal idea, even a destructive one, provided that it could masquerade as socially valuable.' The Sleepwalkers is a smorgasbord of philosophy, wisdom, and poetry. More importantly, however, it tells a wonderful and creative story about Germany’s descent into uninformed darkness. To me, it ranks with Absalom, Absalom! and Petersburg as one of the greatest modernist novels of the 20th century. A novel can be complex without being absurd: The Sleepwalkers manages to be intelligent without being conceited, and that is why it is so much better than Ulysses. It even described my perspective as a quasi-romantic: ‘The lonelier a man becomes, the more detached he is from the value-system in which he lives, the more obviously are his actions determined by the irrational. But the romantic, clinging to the framework of an alien and dogmatic system, is – it seems incredible – completely rational and unchildlike.’ The Sleepwalkers is absolutely brilliant.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Hurley

    This is advertised as a trilogy and it really is, the three novels contained within (150, 200, and 300 pages respectively) could stand separately although the interplay between them comprises the substance of the work as a whole. Gass says of it that the shifts in tone between the works are the most interesting part. It is important to keep in mind with this one that it was written between 1929 and 32, finished a whole year before the nazi party even came into power. The first part he calls 'the This is advertised as a trilogy and it really is, the three novels contained within (150, 200, and 300 pages respectively) could stand separately although the interplay between them comprises the substance of the work as a whole. Gass says of it that the shifts in tone between the works are the most interesting part. It is important to keep in mind with this one that it was written between 1929 and 32, finished a whole year before the nazi party even came into power. The first part he calls 'the romantic' about a soldier Joachim navigating between his bourgeois world and the lower ends of late nineteenth century society... The primary arc of focus here is his liaison with the half-literate czech whore Ruzena, whom he grows to love but eventually feels impelled to leave to marry the expected upper class girl. We can draw comparisons with Buddenbrooks as we watch the workings of the Burgher-Bourgeois society whose decay is now inevitable; of particular note to this is Joachim's relation to the deserter Bertrand (a recurrent character throughout the novel and the most important one who isn't the protagonist of any of the trilogy's books) who tempts Joachim with half-committed Nietzschean quips&world-view, and J's rambling-irreverent father. Hannah Arendt says of the father that his dawning senility represents a half anarchic freedom of expression which plays into the general focus of the novel, what Broch ultimately ends up calling 'The Disintegration of Values'. The novel works quickly, and Broch demonstrates a ready ability to characterize (the first 30 pages flesh out at least six characters with full depth, effortlessly) and jut off into gorgeous prosaic tangents and metaphors that seem to signify a golden autumn of the upper-scale German society in 1888. 150 pages isn't enough time, no matter how quickly Broch works, to really delve into the depths and once the Ruzena plot plays itself out it ends with what amounts to a paragraph's "etc, etc" with implied continuation as Bertrand departs for India, Ruzena is left to the gutters, and the Bourgeois circle reseals itself in complete balance prima facie. The second part is about Esch, namesakely 'the anarchist'. Again there is on Broch's part the hint at the half-committed Nietzschean ethos, here with the protagonist. Esch navigates business deals while contemplating his anarchist beliefs, his interest in further ideologies. This plot is more jumbled and we get essentially just a window into Esch' youth as he starts and stops romances and business schemes. Esch has a chaotic way of reasoning with a half sembleance of moral and intellectual convictions lingering. The novel reaches its first big climax as Esch confronts an implacably cheerful Bertrand, especially in the prosaic dream that follows where Broch starts to contemplate how society's disintegration of values resembles sleepwalking; The complex narrative of the novel requires Broch to stick to a primarily scene&dialogue format but in this particular section he comes very close to the free style of poetic and philosophic association that he uses in Death of Virgil. The very cavalier attitude towards sex and business, accompanied with a very confrontational and almost thriller-esque sense of combat and urgency reminds me to some extent Doeblin and Canetti, but most of all the particular voice in which Kafka writes his characters. Broch's minor novel The Guiltless makes sense to me now as a working out of this particular channeling of the Kafka influence. Again Esch' story ends with marriage and financial stability, with a similar "etc, etc" to the end of the Romantic. Arendt (who wrote the introduction to my edition, hence my many quotations) suggests that these two novels standing alone would paint a picture of lives that end with a quiet&mature contentedness and stability. The year for this one is 1903, and the final volume keeps the 15 year gap and takes place in 1918. Volume three, the Realist, introduces again a new character, Huguenau, another deserter but this time a complete sociopath with a single-minded will to attain money and status by any means possible. Esch and Joachim return as newspaper editor and military major, respectively. The basic plot sees Huguenau infiltrating the society of Esch and Joachim, attempting to play them against one another, and upon failing kills one and leaves the other to rot in irrelevancy. Like the previous novels the entire thing is driven in mostly scene&dialogue based chapters. Also included are the stories of various towsnpeople. Goedicke's story is one of a bricklayer found dead that doctors are able to resusicate, and who slowly regains the ability to walk, then talk, and ends the novel as a slightly deranged citizen prone to yell 'returned to life'. There's also Hanna Wendlicke, the wife of a soldier whose role here is primarily to suggest the psychological damages of war (compare Thomas Mann's own nietzsche-tinged reflections in 1918 that shell shock was a myth and that war reenergized its combatants), and the soldiers Joachim commands, particularly Jaretzki who plays another deranged soldier, half committed to a nietzschean attitude, believing the war will never end. Aside from these narratives which are all more or less intertwined, there is the separate 'story of the salvation army girl in berlin', about Bertrand observing a friendship between some hasidic jews and the salvation army girl, and then a series of 10 essays, 'the disintegration of values', that are sometimes implied to be Bertrand's reflections, and sometimes Broch's. The salvation army girl one reminds me of Primo Levi (and also parts of the Guiltless) in its passive observation of Jewish piety in a society where it is about to be completely destroyed; The disintegration of values sees Broch reflect on the rise and fall of Catholicism, the way in which Hegel's ethics and dialectics were subverted (in a way that Nietzsche does in All Too Human), the universally nihilizing effects of the rise of positivism and logic in philosophy, and also the general madness and sterilizing of values in society as represented in architecture. Arendt suggests that these two narratives, one of which goes off into full-stop technical hegelian logic, and the other of which is converted into poetry, suggest a radicalization of a society fragmented into atoms; In the end the disintegration of values are complete as Huguenau destroys Esch and Joachim, and the story of the jewish army girl ends in a very elegant poetic passivity as the Jewish piety cannot be soothed as it goes to its deathbed. Broch seems rather well versed in philosophy although his project requires him to make some (but surprisingly few) empty platitudes and technical mistakes; I can't speak for his poetry since I read it in translation but it was far from compelling despite its ambition in its best moments to strive for a Rilkean quality. The primary narrative, which takes place between the vignette tangents and the two poles of Bertrand's side plot aside, is very gradual and builds its tension slowly but with obvious inevitability (Huguenau's complete sociopathy is clear from the start and his destructive character is implied throughout) reminiscent of the Aeschylus influence inherited through Goethe and Schiller; It primarily takes the form of business deals and quiet scenes. Two primary scenes stick out amidst a sea of interactions between essentially three characters: The Symposium (which Broch writes as a play) where the three characters have their major interaction which ends in the singing of 'Saoboth' hymns, Esch and Joachim's mature sincerity crept upon by Huguenau's play-acting at religion, reminiscent of a mephistopheles; The other is the final destruction of the town as world war 1 comes to an end, where the final betrayals unto death of the characters take place in a chaotic scene with the fire of the similar scene in Dostoevsky's Demons and Vergil's Aeneid book 2. Broch's attention to the doomed sacrament in the symposium aligns with his conclusion that through Luther Christianity was onto the sinking ship of the disintegration of values, and a scene of nearly perfect divine harmony is tainted nevertheless by the presence of an impostor and the complete ruin of its sincere participants shortly after. There is as much dignity to the mature Esch and Joachim as can be found, but they are nevertheless destroyed by the full-blooded Nietzschean. In this dramatic scene is to be found the climactic unity of unrepentantly pusillanimous death/destruction of all threads began in the novel, and the final chapter sees Huguenau's ascension to wealth and power unified with the Hegelian critique of the dialectical moral decay in Europe (or more probably, Germany) between say, 1860 and 1930. Highly recommended for any fans of german literature

  14. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    Yet again I encounter another self-assured "classic" that, for some reason or other when I was younger and perhaps stupider, I held in such high regard that I plopped it on my Favorites shelf (this is a real, wooden, if sodden, shelf, not an ethereal rectangle that an ethereal arrow cupids for me) and then left well enough alone. Well, rereads can be painful, I confess. It isn't just that the book, like this one, held in high favor by luminaries such as Milan Kundera, is kind of terrible, it's pa Yet again I encounter another self-assured "classic" that, for some reason or other when I was younger and perhaps stupider, I held in such high regard that I plopped it on my Favorites shelf (this is a real, wooden, if sodden, shelf, not an ethereal rectangle that an ethereal arrow cupids for me) and then left well enough alone. Well, rereads can be painful, I confess. It isn't just that the book, like this one, held in high favor by luminaries such as Milan Kundera, is kind of terrible, it's painful more because I never realized that my tastes were so compromised by wide-eyed, inept youthfulness. I wasn't wise or ahead of my time at all. I was probably brimming over with bombast, crouched in a corner of a coffee shop reading this book, holding it up with caffeine-sickened, trembling hands trying to make sense out of it in my delirium. And it is this banal meaninglessness of it that probably drew me to it. Three bland, unmoving stories that correspond little to their direct, titled themes. A petty, immature military officer obsesses over cute Slavic prostitutes. A clerk or accountant or whatever he is tries to get busy with an older, restaurant owner. And there's something about a rich gay business owner he wants to kill. Uh-huh. Finally, a meandering story about an army deserter and everyone else shows up, too. There's a supposed running theme of alienation from one's time, the war, cultural shifts, etc., but it comes across rather poorly. Musil achieved this with much greater effect. I've read some of Broch's other works and remember enjoying them, like the outrageous "Death of Virgil" but this one is a miss. Just a highly-regarded miss that now makes me question everything about myself. To the corner for the weeping and thumb-sucking!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Radit Panjapiyakul

    I’m still not sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, I think Broch has pushed the boundary of an art form, that is a novel, far more than any one can think of. With its interchanging of styles, symbols and allegory or all the poetry and philosophical essays he tried to cram into this trilogy, this is an achievement in itself. The writing also has its fair share of high points where it seems to work perfectly and creatively to carry the narratives. But overall it feels much like a big c I’m still not sure what to make of this book. On the one hand, I think Broch has pushed the boundary of an art form, that is a novel, far more than any one can think of. With its interchanging of styles, symbols and allegory or all the poetry and philosophical essays he tried to cram into this trilogy, this is an achievement in itself. The writing also has its fair share of high points where it seems to work perfectly and creatively to carry the narratives. But overall it feels much like a big complex structure that’s ready to break down to pieces in any moment when there’s not so good story to support it. He set up main characters whose only main focus is to keep hating and sneering at each other, while they might symbolize the clashing between different ideals and values, or in his words, the disintegration of European system value in time of World War I and the revolutions, it actually goes on for far too very long. And everything is covered too much in the haze, like a dream, a sleepwalking that doesn’t seem to try to evoke any feelings. Or that might be his intention to delude you from seeing the whole pictures too clear, then you might see how empty it is.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kobe Bryant

    The first two parts are pretty cool because theyre about these neurotic guys trying to get laid, but I dont even know what the third part is about. Goodreads staff please add 3 instead of 1 to my '2013 books read' because this is a trilogy The first two parts are pretty cool because theyre about these neurotic guys trying to get laid, but I dont even know what the third part is about. Goodreads staff please add 3 instead of 1 to my '2013 books read' because this is a trilogy

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I've heard the third part is amazing, but I barely made it through the first part and the second part...well...that's where I just had to stop. I've heard the third part is amazing, but I barely made it through the first part and the second part...well...that's where I just had to stop.

  18. 5 out of 5

    أحمد الحقيل

    i can't understand why a great writer like Broch doesn't get the same recognition his contemporaries Mann or Hesse or even Musil got . a great book . i can't understand why a great writer like Broch doesn't get the same recognition his contemporaries Mann or Hesse or even Musil got . a great book .

  19. 5 out of 5

    Regitze

    Oh dear I never thought I would finish this. Holy moly. The only thing I have to say is that I am glad I'm done with it. Oh dear I never thought I would finish this. Holy moly. The only thing I have to say is that I am glad I'm done with it.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Tole

    If you’ve come this far looking at and for The Sleepwalkers then you are more than likely to already know quite a bit about the book. For instance, you will be aware that its structure is in three books comprising Pasenow The Romantic set in 1888, Esch The Anarchist set in 1903 and Huguenau The Realist, the final book set in 1918. As such it looks at a development of German humanity and history from before the First World War and through that conflict and the way society changed. Quite what Broc If you’ve come this far looking at and for The Sleepwalkers then you are more than likely to already know quite a bit about the book. For instance, you will be aware that its structure is in three books comprising Pasenow The Romantic set in 1888, Esch The Anarchist set in 1903 and Huguenau The Realist, the final book set in 1918. As such it looks at a development of German humanity and history from before the First World War and through that conflict and the way society changed. Quite what Broch was setting out to do when he started writing the triptych in 1928 finally finishing in 1931, has to be left in the realms of our own surmises from the text itself. But what we now have is an explosive epic novel which challenged the changes in literary form which the publication of Joyce's Ulysses in 1922 had kick started. This might not be apparent as you start in on Book 1 but by the end of 650 pages one is left wondering quite what it was that you have read and the monumental task that Broch set himself. It helps to have some background of this period and I would recommend reading Barbara Tuchman's The Proud Tower which looks at patrician society of Europe from 1890 through to the beginning of the War. The first two books can be read almost as narrative, but a narrative with a definite end goal through which runs a deeply penetrative search after meaning as well as introducing us to the major characters. Von Pasenow is the younger son steeped in Junker beliefs and a member of the landed aristocracy already embarked on a military career. This is an environment which is deeply conservative and steeped in Prussian rigidity of class and conformity. But change is coming, change is in the wind without doubt and Von Pasenow is a reflection of this change. When his elder brother is killed in a duel of honour he is thrown directly into the conflict between self-definition and the pressure to become the head of the estate and continue the historical traditions as they had always been before. Set up against this feudal land-owning aristocracy is the character of Von Pasenow’s friend, the industrialist Bertrand. He is the coming wind of change, of commerce and industry and rampant capitalism. So Broch sets up a schism already between the rigidity and formality of class within Von Pasenow and his longing to be something else, something that the apparent freedom of Bertrand represents, emphasised by VP seeing himself as superior to Bertrand whilst at the same time envying him. VP is full of repressed guilt and shame and suppressed emotion which is all magnified by Broch by setting up the dualism in the women he introduces. Ruzena is the Bohemian prostitute with whom Von Pasenow embarks on a sexual liaison going so far as to set her up as a 'kept woman' and steering her life path beyond picking up tricks. Despite his claims to the contrary Von Pasenow gradually becomes obsessed with Ruzena. In opposition to Ruzena, Broch gives us Elisabeth, the daughter on the neighbouring estate to whom by rite of passage Von Pasenow ought to marry to maintain the line of aristocracy and land ownership and who he sees as a saintly figure rather than either a lifetime partner in marriage or a sexual being. Von Pasenow is Galahad to Elisabeth’s Guinevere. This first book owes much, one might suggest, to the early works of Freud which Broch must have been aware of –the repressed guilt of Von Pasenow, the dualism of whore and saint between Ruzena and Elisabeth, duty versus freedom between VP and Bertrand, the prostitute versus the kept woman versus the sanctity of marriage. Even consummation with Ruzena is like a romantic myth and she is portrayed as a naïf throwaway. The break against convention would be as if to let everything slide, all the values of his class and the edifices of life to that point would disintegrate into a chaos beyond which no one could see. It is Ruzena that makes the dominant move casting off VP. He returns to the country and after an attempt to deliver Elisabeth to Bertrand, almost as self-sacrifice, and Elisabeth admitting to Bertrand that she did not love VP, they are engaged and quietly married to a chaste wedding night where ”marriage signified more than a Christian marriage, it meant a redemption from the pit and the mire and a heavenly assurance that he was entering the way of grace”. This first book ends with the throwaway that after 18 months their first child was born. The action moves forward to Book 2 and 1903 introducing us to Esch, an argumentative if conscientious bookkeeper. He soon talks his way out of his position but he is given an opening with Bertrand’s now much grown company by his friend the union-man, crutch-propelled socialist Martin Gehring. Gehring is little more than a minor character but it is soon clear that we are in a different age from that shown in Book 1. All the conservative pillars of Honour, Duty and Altruism are under attack. Esch himself is shown as the ‘immoral moralist’. He might say one thing; he might even believe that thing, but his actions speak of a new world view. Esch moves from his back seat employee world of bookkeeping to become a venturer and a minor theatre promoter and impresario. It becomes a world of you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours. ”Service demanded service” “He didn’t accept goods gratis”. Esch does have the diligence of work and some sense of honesty of both labour and attitude but through the associations with the characters introduced by Broch we see him as in some way psychologically compromised. He is not beyond deceit or dalliance but all the time he expresses a sense of ‘orphaned isolation’. And he has a lingering crisis of being unable to commit himself to anything. Yet still he has the inkling of values and he is infuriated by the arrest and imprisonment of Gehring. In his dealings with the finance of the theatrical ventures he is less than forthright with the other participants towards whom he has a sense of hauteur as if they were all marks to be played whilst at the same time he hardly believes in the ventures himself. Esch becomes the vision of artifice, the apprentice to doing what needs to be done. He aims to blackmail Bertrand , who we learn is a homosexual. His affair with Ma Hentjen is almost throwaway (on both their parts). For him the division is not order into ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but rather into good and evil forces which one might chose a path between. He is able to deceive himself, as indeed are many of the other characters arrayed by Broch. And yet he dreams of the Immaculate, the virginal, a prelapsarian paradise. Furthermore, as the book proceeds there is also a sense of martyrdom about Esch; ”it doesn’t matter in the long run whether a man’s decent or not; he’s always decent on one side; the question is what did he do?”, “we don’t know black from white any longer. Everything’s topsy-turvy. You don’t even know what’s past from what’s still going on....” This martyrdom is Christ-like for-the-good-of-others which has a political fervour at it’s core. He cannot understand Gehring’s lack of anger. The whole episode of confrontation with Bertrand seems like a kind of sermon or sacrament such that Esch seems to have become a mystic figure. It seems like Broch has written his own Temptation in the Wilderness and an Apotheosis of a Christ-like figure who struggles between Messiah and Manhood. And with this thought the book rushes to a conclusion with Esch disappearing to Luxemburg with Frau Hentjen, to work as a bookkeeper again. From the very opening page of Book 3, Huguenau the Realist, we are in a quite different book from that which has preceded. The most immediate expression of that difference is the breaking of the text into distinct chapters. As we pass through them what also becomes apparent is that we have different narrators in these sections. It is almost as if Broch changed how he wanted to finish The Sleepwalkers or at some point has decided to make a monumental shift in how the work is to be perceived. We quickly learn the background of Huguenau, 30, and a deserter from the front in the spring of 1918. Smooth talking and able to pass himself off to all classes and kinds he winds up in Trier having spent the last of his money on good clothes and tidying his appearance to become something other than the deserter he is. Esch returns as the grumpy, argumentative owner-by-default of the local newspaper and Von Pasenow returns as the ageing Major town commander. Into this narrative Broch gives us several different themes which break up the expanding tale of our three protagonists. First comes The Story of the Salvation Army Girl in Berlin which is decidedly difficult to make sense of and sounds like a Grosz cartoon in literary form. Then comes Disintegration of Values which would appear to be a chance for the narrator, possibly Broch himself, to wax philosophical on the Absolute whilst riffing on Hegel, Kant, theology with an overbearing Nietzschean tone of gloomy solipsism. You have to keep these strands running in your head along with the many new characters that are introduced within the purely narrative tale of Huguenau, Esch and Von Pasenow. Of course it helps that these differing approaches are divided into headlined chapters . But not content with throwing thematically different approaches in the mix, Broch changes from prose to poetry and even to drama at one point. Its as if the narrative structure is not enough. This must be Modernist à la Joyce, multi-narrated, multi-viewpointed, distinct but, one supposes, for Broch, adding to the level of understanding making sense through complexity however ill or well-founded. Does it work? It is heavy going requiring stamina and a degree of parking ones belief on one side. What Broch appears to want to do is to elucidate the desperation of the times, to impart the sense of loss of old values for new following the holocaust of the First World War and the defeat of Germany with no gain for the loss of so much. The intermissions are sometimes rebarbative and at others an interesting aside to the lines of the prose, and indeed the whole form that the whole book has followed. The intermissions seem at times like bits of agitprop thrown into a novel by a grumpy old fart content, or rather discontented, reminiscing on the old in face of the new. Huguenau, the face of the new, triumphs and in the course iof his triumph kills Esch and outwits Von Pasenow who declines into a world of personal tragedy and dysfunction. Broch stalks the pages in his role as cod-philosopher not just within the Disintegration of Values sections but throughout, talking of ‘sobriety’ versus ‘intoxication’, of how difficult it is to chose a standard between one set of values or another, and really going to town on the Absolute, the Infinite and the Rational and their counter-positions. The Nietzschean view of losing all sense of belonging when disruption uproots everything that had before been connected pervades everything to give a deep sense of pessimistic gloom. Broch seems almost disinterested in the narrative as narrative, merely a connection between his ‘Intermissions’ which appear to be more important but are really more garbled when carefully dissected. Even so, there is so much to enjoy in the writing, in both the narrative and the intermissions because there is cause and Broch wants to, or essays to do something which has not been done before. In the end we come away with Huguenau as a man of his time, with a single purpose and all else stripped away to leave a straight line, amoral mechanistic striving solely after commerce and materialistic success. Huguenau is far from a likeable character. This is Broch’s condemnation of the age. The fraud and scheming of Huguenau is the result of the loss of values, the loss of chivalry, the loss of Belief, the loss of everything that had gone before. The narrative and the intermissions HAVE to be taken as a whole despite the tedium and downright cod-ness that some sections elicit. At times within them the prose is ‘chunky’ (which may have to do with difficulties of translation) and outrightly ill-formed or just plain headed off down the path to nowhere. Would a better novel have been produced by cutting the intermissions? I cannot say, but that would have been a different book from the one Broch in the end gave us. Perhaps in the end it is just Broch’s soapbox. But it is some soapbox! This brick of a book has won admiration from Kundera, Steiner and Huxley and must be considered an essential part of Modernist literature. It should be read but it needs persistence and stamina.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    I find myself quite commandingly dumbstruck. My impression at this moment, having only just completed reading it, is that Hermann Broch's THE SLEEPWALKERS, a sprawling trilogy (of sorts) and the author's literary debut, is almost certainly the greatest novel of the first half of the twentieth century. Broch would appear to have two obvious contemporaries writing in German to whom comparisons will be inevitable: Robert Musil and Thomas Mann. It is my contention that with his first novel Broch had I find myself quite commandingly dumbstruck. My impression at this moment, having only just completed reading it, is that Hermann Broch's THE SLEEPWALKERS, a sprawling trilogy (of sorts) and the author's literary debut, is almost certainly the greatest novel of the first half of the twentieth century. Broch would appear to have two obvious contemporaries writing in German to whom comparisons will be inevitable: Robert Musil and Thomas Mann. It is my contention that with his first novel Broch had already decisively surpassed them. THE SLEEPWALKERS is not a trilogy in the strictest sense because the three sections did not appear separately at any time, always having comprised a single work. However, the breaking of the novel into three sections--each separated by fifteen years (1888, 1903, 1918) and each primarily focusing on a different character (with each representing a proto-ideological archetype, the sections being named "The Romantic," "The Anarchist," and "The Realist")--is probably its primary (though hardly sole) distinguishing feature. Broch is considered one of the prime exemplars of literary modernism. For good reason. His subsequent opus THE DEATH OF VIRGIL, which I have not yet read, would seem to have pushed him even further in that direction. It is only as THE SLEEPWALKERS progresses that we gradually begin to divine its radical break with 19th century templates, to which it a first appears to bear some considerable fidelity. It is in the third section, "The Realist," where the novel ultimately evolves into an awesome paradigm-smashing tour de force. Not only is this a modernist novel but one that prefigures the so-called postmodern novels of the postwar era. It does so primarily by constituting itself as a Systems Novel avant la lettre, and one in which forces of industrial, military, and broadly institutional modernization unleash forces of acceleration and entropy. Although none of the characters play a major role in all three sections, a number play major roles in two, and in all instances they reappear in order to establish pronounced counterpoints born of personal transformations in part meant to be understood explicitly as social phenomena. From its first section on, THE SLEEPWALKERS is very much about characters enmeshed is societal systems which provoke in them envy, longing, resentment, and moral disconsolation. Implicitly the novel is about European social relations in the lead-up to the grotesque and senseless conflagration of the First World War, the materialization of the horrors and calumny of which causes the novel itself, in its third section, to begin to fragment, organizationally splinter, and subject itself to its own self-reflexive analysis. "The Realist" does not only tell the story of monumentally callow deserter Wilhelm Huguenau the way the first two sections told the stories of military man Joachim von Pasenow and disgruntled bookkeeper August Esch respectively. In "The Realist" multiple characters are introduced whose lives we are at first completely unable to link to the central action, including two men wounded in the war and a woman named Hanna Wendling whose lawyer husband will return briefly from the front during the time we get to know her. At the same time two ongoing peripheral digressions are fragmentedly interwoven, each with a title: “Story of the Salvation Army Girl in Berlin,” the personal reminiscence of a doctor of philosophy explicitly marked as divorced from the action of the narrative proper by virtue of its specified location; and “Disintegration of Values,” a voluble philosophical treatise which eventually expands to comment upon the narrative proper. I very quickly began to suspect that “Story of the Salvation Army Girl in Berlin” and “Disintegration of Values” were very different works by the same author. It was only near the end of the book that I came to understand both the fact that that author is Hermann Broch and the full implications of that fact. “Disintegration of Values” is where Broch grapples with what his novel is doing in the grandest possible terms. Things start fairly explicitly, when the author says of the world (implicitly the world under the novel's investigation) that "we feel the totality to be insane, but for each single life we can easily discover logical guiding motives." This is indeed what THE SLEEPWALKERS is at first: a fascinating explication of the thoughts and behaviours of complicated but intelligible individuals in complicated times of increasing unintelligibility. “Disintegration of Values” enters a somewhat Wittgensteinian territory when it begins to formulate social relations around "value-making subjects" and "world-formations." It is actually the eponymous self-seeking Realist (and rationalism in general) the is framed as a threat to collective value-system. Rationalism is in turn coupled (if uneasily) to the irrational. Broch chillingly asserts “that there are irrational forces, that they are effective, and that their very nature impels them to attach themselves to a new organon of values, to a total system which in the eyes of the Church can be no other than that of the Antichrist.” In this way “Antichrist” becomes synonymous with “spirit of Europe.” “Disintegration of Values” ends not only by assimilating the narrative instruments of "The Realist" but of explicitly framing its lost generation, beset by total chaos and wallowing in an existential vacuum, as ripe for the exploitation of despots. THE SLEEPWALKERS was published in 1932. The Jewish (though he did convert unavailingly, as had Gustav Mahler, to Roman Catholicism) and outspoken Broch was imprisoned by the Nazis after the annexation of Austria in '38. He eventually was freed and emigrated to the United States where he wrote THE DEATH OF VIRGIL. I have not yet read THE DEATH OF VIRGIL as I have already stated, but I have it on good word that it is one of the most powerful and expressively rich renunciations of literature in the history of literature. I am reminded of a musical hero of mine who started making electronic music in the late 90s claiming that he had perfected the guitar so that playing it had become a colossal drag. Broch probably experienced something similar. I truly cannot imagine producing THE SLEEPWALKERS, surviving the holocaust, witnessing the birth of atomic bomb, deep-sixed in the United States, and having to think of what to do with yourself next. Colossal drags probably don't get much more colossal.

  22. 4 out of 5

    papaburi

    A literary masterpiece. All novels which form this trilogy are better than the remaining two. ”[...] desire and aims meet and merge, when dreams begin to foreshadow the great moments and crises of life, the road narrows then into darker gorges, and the prophetic dream of death enshrouds the man who has hitherto walked dreaming in sleep...The man who from afar off yearns for his wife or merely for the home of his childhood has begun his sleepwalking.” (Addendum: this translation is wonderful.)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tony Gualtieri

    This is my second reading of this masterpiece. I continue to be amazed at how these novels transition from romantic nostalgia to deep philosophical modernism. With Broch, one reaches the boundary of what can be done with literary fiction.

  24. 4 out of 5

    John David

    The Sleepwalkers (originally published in 1932 as “Die Schlafwandler” in Germany) is a trilogy of three novels sharing between them many of the same big, philosophical themes of history, love, will, and meaning. It’s written in three distinct episodes beginning in 1888 with each subsequent one separated by a period of fifteen years. The first episode takes place in 1888 centers on Joachim von Pasenow and his two love interests – his visceral, passionate love for the Czech prostitute Ruzena, and The Sleepwalkers (originally published in 1932 as “Die Schlafwandler” in Germany) is a trilogy of three novels sharing between them many of the same big, philosophical themes of history, love, will, and meaning. It’s written in three distinct episodes beginning in 1888 with each subsequent one separated by a period of fifteen years. The first episode takes place in 1888 centers on Joachim von Pasenow and his two love interests – his visceral, passionate love for the Czech prostitute Ruzena, and his cool, class-interested, and duty-driven love toward the aristocrat name Elisabeth. He finds solace in the traditions of military service and the beliefs of the Lutheran Church. Out of obligation, he ends up feeling the need to marry Elizabeth, but they do not immediately consummate their marriage. “The Anarchist” revolves around uneasy bookkeeper named August Esch. When Esch’s friend, a socialist who operates a labor union, is thrown into jail, Esch blames a local successful business owner, and publicly claims that he’s a homosexual. Esch has fantastical dreams of beginning a vulgar theatrical show in which female wrestlers wear next to another while they beat each other senseless (how little times change). Like Pasenow, Esch feels ambivalent about the values of the world in which he lives, but tries to look for a scapegoat instead. “The Realist,” set in 1918, bring together the aging von Pasenow from the first story and Esch from the second, and tells their story as illness and war slowly ravage their city. Esch takes over at a local newspaper and tries to cobble some kind of meaning together from the tatters of his life, but it’s unclear as to how successful he is. There are several scenes with exhausted, distraught doctors having to inform young, shellshocked soldiers that they will need amputations, or worse. In the final pages of the novel Major von Pasenow is nearly killed by town rioters. If this is an allegory for what Broch thought was happening to the heart and soul of Germany, it’s hard to imagine how he even had the energy to drag himself out of bed in the morning. The decadence, depravity, and unalloyed evil of people in on full display. As one might expect of a capacious novel published in the last years of Weimar Germany “The Sleepwalkers” seems to be about the dissolution of an increasingly decadent Germany as seen through the morally problematic nature of the choices and behaviors seen in the characters in each of the three stories. Of course, what Broch experienced in the interwar years was the utter and total inability of the political class to deal with German problems, and this novel is mostly a fictional distillation of that set of angsts, turbulences, and disappointments. In this sense, it very much digs up much of the well-worn literary territory that writers of this time period seemed to be obsessed with. And if none of this wasn’t already eerie enough, Broch goes on to play political prognosticator. At least where nonfiction is concerned, this is usually a mug’s game, but Broch – or at least the novel’s narrator – predicts the rise of a brutal demagogue who will foretell a new future for Germany. Reading these words still remains one of the most fantastically outre, downright unheimlich experiences that the reading of fiction has recently visited upon me. Of course, if there’s anything that can ruin an otherwise perfectly enjoyable reading experience, it’s a translation with which, for whatever reason, I can’t find any sense of readerly synchronicity. Unfortunately, this was one of those times. Since I have no German at all, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether I just dislike the translation or whether I simply wasn’t in the mood for it. Whatever the case, I found the language turgid and overblown – especially in the parts that discussed philosophy, love, art, and other “big themes” – which only further exacerbated the problem. To think that this was Broch’s debut novel is simply incredible, even if he was in his mid-forties when it was first published. It does a tremendous job at capturing a particular spirit in a precise moment in history. This would be something I would love to re-visit again in the years to come, but almost certainly in a translation that doesn’t assume the Big Ideas have to be written about in language that is itself on stilts.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    Life events had kept me from writing, but, as usual, it wasn't because I'd stopped reading. I'll start catching up with my reviews with one of the amazing books recommend by my favorite-amazing-writer, Milan Kundera. The Sleepwalkers, by a guy called Hermann Broch (Austrian, I think), is not, really, a novel, but three: The Romantic, The Anarchist and the Realist. Written around the 1940s, the novels go through the end of the 1800s until 1918 (so WWI). Understand that I am not a big fan of war boo Life events had kept me from writing, but, as usual, it wasn't because I'd stopped reading. I'll start catching up with my reviews with one of the amazing books recommend by my favorite-amazing-writer, Milan Kundera. The Sleepwalkers, by a guy called Hermann Broch (Austrian, I think), is not, really, a novel, but three: The Romantic, The Anarchist and the Realist. Written around the 1940s, the novels go through the end of the 1800s until 1918 (so WWI). Understand that I am not a big fan of war books, but here it actually made sense. The main characters from book one and two are brought back on the third part, and a sort of "antagonist" from the first part, appears also in the second. So, everything is connected in a way that doesn't seem too obvious in the beginning. The first part tells the story of a soldier who has to marry a high-class girl but falls in love with another woman who is a sort of prostitute. The second part tells the story of a book-keeper that quits his job for "moral" reasons and ends up working in a theatre, according to him, to save a girl. The third part shows them both, with a war deserter, in a little town affected by war, with their different viewpoints according to what happened to them earlier in life. Broch makes a strong criticism of society (that still applies nowadays), regarding what are the motives behind our actions, and which do we pretend our motives to be. It is very interesting to see him describe the train thoughts of the characters, and justifying things for them in a way that even the reader can get caught up in this non-sensical reasoning. He also makes an interesting point in telling you what the characters are NOT thinking some times, and manages to get in his personal opinions about the decadence in society without them seeming something external from the book. The truth is that it is a bit hard to read because of the language used (and the sentences are too long, for example), but it is worth it. It has complicated concepts, but very interesting ones (I have been using a lot of quotes from this book in my daily life lately), and I do recommend it for people who want to re-evaluate the way they think.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Philip Thiel

    One of the great pleasures and illusions of reading is being given words for what we already know. We reach the end of a paragraph so original it’s familiar, as if the writer were transcribing our own mind. “I’ve always known this,” we lie. In surrealism this effect is more rare. Waking as a cockroach isn’t familiar; nor is following a rabbit. And yet Hermann Broch – a writer as offbeat as Kafka and Carroll – somehow seems always to be telling the truth, even at his most uncanny. “And because ho One of the great pleasures and illusions of reading is being given words for what we already know. We reach the end of a paragraph so original it’s familiar, as if the writer were transcribing our own mind. “I’ve always known this,” we lie. In surrealism this effect is more rare. Waking as a cockroach isn’t familiar; nor is following a rabbit. And yet Hermann Broch – a writer as offbeat as Kafka and Carroll – somehow seems always to be telling the truth, even at his most uncanny. “And because horses, who although docile are yet somewhat insane creatures, exert on many human beings a kind of magical influence,” he writes, and I’m ready for what comes next, having always known this about horses. Like other modernists (and other Austrians) Broch heightens things beyond their usual scope, but only because we all do. Characters in The Sleepwalkers witness each other through a fog of their own preoccupations, a psychological filter through which things become meaningful only as they distort. Language plays a devastating role in this, like a friend so good at actively listening they reduce you to a single perfect cliché. “It was all incomprehensible,” someone realises, working harder than all the philosophical sections of the novel combined. Passages like the “logical excursus” are worthy enough, but by comparison form a negative argument for the value of fiction. Happily, both fiction and philosophy are told with the heterogeneous tools of modernism, given a Teutonic twist: Broch’s stream-of-consciousness is clearer than Woolf’s, and a 282-word sentence is Proustian only in length, describing not personal memory but the categorical distinction between the rebel and the criminal. But for all its formal variety (plays, letters, hymns) the book’s existentialism is unyielding. “For although every man believes that his decisions and resolutions involve the most multifarious factors, in reality they are a mere oscillation between flight and longing, and the ultimate goal of all flight and all longing is death.”

  27. 4 out of 5

    Olga

    This book is interesting because modernity is interesting, which is what this book demonstrates. We start with a German military man, bound by traditiin and with little confusion about what he is meant to do... until globalizing elements intrude on his taken for granted reality. Then we have a pseudo anarchist, who desperately wants something to believe in but who secretly fears that all of it is a hoax and that only sensual pleasure and pain are reality. Last, we have a man who sees reality for This book is interesting because modernity is interesting, which is what this book demonstrates. We start with a German military man, bound by traditiin and with little confusion about what he is meant to do... until globalizing elements intrude on his taken for granted reality. Then we have a pseudo anarchist, who desperately wants something to believe in but who secretly fears that all of it is a hoax and that only sensual pleasure and pain are reality. Last, we have a man who sees reality for what it is-- a shifting morass of opportunities to benefit oneself at the expense of others, using the cynical ideals that even they don't believe in but must nonetheless follow. Between these macro plot lines, there are countless delightfully penetrating observations into human psychology and relationships. This is one of the best books I've ever read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    "'it is always the adherent of the smaller value system who slays the adherent of the larger system that is breaking up; it is always he, unfortunate wretch, who assumes the role of executioner in the process of value disintegration, and on the day when the trumpets of Judgment sound, it is the man released from all values who becomes the executioner of a world that has pronounced its own sentence.' In Broch's mind, the Modern Era is the bridge that leads from the reign of irrational faith to the "'it is always the adherent of the smaller value system who slays the adherent of the larger system that is breaking up; it is always he, unfortunate wretch, who assumes the role of executioner in the process of value disintegration, and on the day when the trumpets of Judgment sound, it is the man released from all values who becomes the executioner of a world that has pronounced its own sentence.' In Broch's mind, the Modern Era is the bridge that leads from the reign of irrational faith to the reign of the irrational in a world without faith. The figure who appears at the end of that bridge is Huguenau."

  29. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    If you try to bring down the exploitative capitalist economic system, you'll probably end up doing more harm than good. If you try to bring down the exploitative capitalist economic system, you'll probably end up doing more harm than good.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David M

    I read this after the Death of Virgil, and was a bit disappointed. While DoV is an explosion of radical freedom, the Sleepwalkers is a boring old novel.

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