This is a story I’ve read any number of times since I first encountered in college, and I decided to try an audiobook this time around. Big mistake. I don’t know what the problem was, but it felt like a wholly different book to me, and not one that I particularly enjoyed. Possibly it was the narrator, a number of people have expressed negative opinions on his work in their reviews. Possibly it’s a different translation, but I see no indication of who the translator was, and I really don’t have the energy to compare the audio and hard copy versions side-by-side. Bottom line: this didn’t work for me.
On the off chance that you don’t know the story, writer Gustav von Aschenbach feels restless and takes himself off to Venice where he finds the weather oppressive, but the proximity of a young Polish boy enough to keep him in the city in spite of his health concerns. Much is made of Aschenbach’s work ethic, his moral stance, his belief that will power will carry one through all troubles. And yet in a moment, all of his professional nobility is shattered by the appearance of a luminous boy, a perfect amalgam of Eros, Hyacinth, and whatever other gorgeous, mythic youth Aschenbach’s besotted brain tosses up to explain away the experience of being utterly gobsmacked by desire.
The irony here is so think you need waders.
In the end, we’re the only witnesses to Aschenbach’s fall from grace, from the pedestal which he worked so hard to climb. We don’t really know why he was so smitten, whether there was something in his past which made him susceptible to a beautiful boy. We see him tart his desire up as casual interest, fascination, as a desire to touch perfection, and as love, but by the end, he’s become something he formerly scorned — an old man trying to be a young one — in order to be more attractive to Tadzio. It’s difficult to watch, and yet impossible to look away from the trainwreck of Aschenbach’s end.
Though my favorite Mann story is The Blood of the Walsungs, Death in Venice will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m sorry the audiobook didn’t stand up to the task.