Brilliant heady work, thick with words, which may have been the result of translation, but 700+ pages of intellectual thought a la Sartre became a heavy burden. This is no mere novel, this is a tome describing the unease of the 20th century. The “hero” Ulrich, as a character, stands up to scrutiny, and is indeed a man without qualities. He is ill at ease with his life, takes a year off to think things over, and gets involved in the Parallel Campaign organized by his cousin, the lovely Diotima, whose goal is to find a unifying symbol for the Austrian people to celebrate during the Emperor’s 70th anniversary. There are also odd tangents such as the death penalty case of Moosbrugger, a serial murderer who’s somewhat insane, but sane enough. Other characters include Arnheim (the wealthy Prussian Renaissance Man who’s viewed as an intruder by the Austrian elite), Section Chief Tuzzi (Diotima’s wife and Foreign Ministry official), Rachel (Diotima’s maidservant), Soliman (Arnheim’s servant), Count Leinsdorf, General Stumm, Ulrich’s old friend Walter and his wife Clarisse, and Leo Fischel and his daughter Gerda.
Roger Kimball says it best in New Criterion: “Throughout the first volume of The Man Without Qualities, the Parallel Campaign is the scaffolding upon which Musil hangs his tale and parades his motley cast of characters.” See below for more Kimball.
This work was published 35 years after the author’s death, which leads me to believe he would have wanted significant edits. Regardless, I’m glad it’s available in any form to read, as it should take its place in the pantheon of great literature.
This is only Volume I. Volume II will have to wait until I take a breather and cut my teeth on lighter stuff. Towards the end I had to force myself to read pages, admittingly skimming over some sections in order to move on to something else. I would liken reading this book to taking a twenty mile hike– by mile fifteen you have to force your legs to keep moving, otherwise exhaustion will overtake you and you may never get up once you sit to rest. But the exhilaration of the hike is worth it.
Go read an excerpt for yo-self
Or read more about Musil and his work.