x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Interesting graveside reading

Victor Brombert explores “the vanity of human endeavours, the mystery of suffering and death” through the work of Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, Giorgio Bassani, J M Coetzee and Primo Levi

“Only fools are drawn to the house of mirth. For desire shall fail, and inevitably the living shall go to their long home.”

As you may have surmised from reading the above excerpt, Victor Brombert’s scholarly new book is not the most upbeat read. In fact it’s about as far from upbeat as suicide, cancer and plane crashes.

The decidedly morbid intellectual explores “the vanity of human endeavours, the mystery of suffering and death” through the work of some of the most respected (and melancholic) writers of the past 150 years: Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Albert Camus, Giorgio Bassani, J M Coetzee and Primo Levi.

As if offering consolation to readers who have been cast into a pit of despair by his graveside contemplations, Brombert offers this comparatively cheerful observation inspired by John Donne’s sonnet Death Be Not Proud: “For the dead, death shall be no more, death shall die”.

Musings on Mortality is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for the manically depressed, but Brombert’s thoughtful observations on the finite nature of existence make for interesting reading.

pmuir@thenational.ae