Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann


I found this review difficult to write because, whilst I absolutely loved the majority of this book, I began to lose a little patience with it near the end, which initially left a sourer taste in my mouth than I think its wonderfully told story deserves.

‘Wonderfully’ because, despite any hesitations as the final part drew to a close, so initially captivated was I by the main characters’ lives, and such was my interest in the telling of their stories, that the momentum gained was more than sufficient to keep me involved until the end – and now, only a short time after completing my journey with them, an overall feeling is beginning to be felt and this wonderful connection to the whole story realised.

From the outset, this story makes its inexorable way toward its conclusion with a certain sense of inevitability and fatality. There really are no other directions the paths these characters are on can lead. This is not to suggest that the story feels predictable; merely that they inhabit a living, breathing, dynamic world, where each action and decision has real-world consequences and effects. You become so drawn into their lives, particularly in the earlier parts, that you find yourself emotionally invested in and caring about every decision and choice they make, and every step they take; feeling optimism when they go one way, or dread when they go another; and sharing in the sense of justice or injustice at the fruit that these paths may bear.

All of the main characters are sympathetically-not-sentimentally drawn as fully-rounded human-beings, and are infused with love by the author. As such, their motivations are clear and understandable. Subsequently, you find yourself able to empathise with them all, even in the face of behaviour that may appear disagreeable – and you really do care and do become emotionally invested in the outcomes of their well-meaning if misguided choices and actions.

It is these living and breathing people that populate the story that make it such a joy. This book is a lesson in characterisation. They are drawn so well, within and without, that we feel able to see how they are seen, and feel how they see – and are, therefore, able to empathise with, appreciate, and understand all of these points of view. This gives us a fully-rounded, fully-realised, believable cast inhabiting a generally fully-drawn believable world.

For those that enjoy getting invested in lives populating a convincingly told human drama against the backdrop of a realistic and generally relatable world, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I doubt this a book that will affect your worldview and, although a beautifully framed story, its structure and telling don’t break any new ground – hence the four rather than five marks. However, that’s not what it’s here to do: it’s here to tell the story of this family and various members within – and this it does wonderfully. It therefore receives a hearty recommendation from me.

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