My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I don’t quite remember how I had come across this book but I think it was through a reference in another. Anyway, the title was quite interesting and I picked it bought it in my kindle library. I picked it up while I was backpacking and while I had intended to complete the book in the duration, it was not to be so. The thing about e-readers is that it is difficult to gauge how long or short the book is. Plus, I think that the e-reader takes some of the joy away from reading for me.
This was my first Robert Musil and I had little to expect from the book. My liking for the book went through some muddled phases as the book progressed. The story in itself was nothing that kept me bound to the book. Indeed, my reading pattern was of a stolen half hour every day and at times I used to be too busy to pick up the book for days at length. However, there was a familiarity with which I returned to the book. It was as if I was hanging out with people I knew. Which talks a lot about the characters that the author has built in this story. There is not much of a story though and the pages go through one idea after another, at times leaving little breathing space in between so that the entire process seems too tedious and long drawn. The book’s being unfinished does not affect the reader so much since there was nothing in the story that begged conclusion.
The story in itself is about a man, Ulrich, who serves as the protagonist. He is the man in question, the man without qualities, or rather, a man without any specific quality. The story is set in Austria in the dying days of the monarchy and moves through the upper circles of the society. Ulrich is put into a circle of politically and intellectually inclined people, some of whom take a liking to him and take him under their patronage. While he tussles intellectually with his new group of friends, the rest of his life sees action as well. His old friends, his mistress, his father’s death and the surprise reunion with his sister, all add individual elements to this potpourri of stories and ideas with no specific theme. The book finishes abruptly in one of those social gatherings that form the crux of the story.
The best thing I liked about Musil’s writing is that he built extremely strong characters. So strong in fact that you start befriending them while you go through this book. However, reading the story was like putting up with the intellectual bullshitting of these friends. There were times when I had to read pages without interest, through some verbose explanation of some idea that I could not empathise with. This will remain my only Musil for now.