Context: Finished this off in an afternoon in my room at the Wycliffe centre.
Wow. Little books (127 pages in my edition from the 50s) can certainly pack some punch and this is one of the hardest hitting. It’s not an uplifting read by any means but, having read it, I’m surprised it was removed from the 2008 revised edition of the 1001 list.
It centres around a man named Wilhelm and a day in his life. I use the word “centres” purposefully. It’s more of an inexorable vortex actually.
Along the way, he encounters characters that tug him onward from the innocuous-seeming hotel receptionist through to his father. Each encounter amplifies the quivering uncertainty in his heart until… well, I’ll leave that to you.
This was made into a film and not too long ago either (1986). But I can’t see how you can represent Wilhelm in film. It just wouldn’t work. Like Herzog, the entire point is that there is an altogether parallel universe which goes on inside the character. Quite how you would translate that to film convincingly escapes me.
Not surprisingly, the film flopped. The book is an invitation into the life and mind of a normal man. I say that because I am approaching the age of Wilhelm and can see just how fragile we men really are. If we’re honest, we have dialogues in our minds that are just as turbulent as his and, at times, long for meaning, for understanding from both others and, more crucially, from our own selves.
So, I’d recommend any man, particularly any middle-aged man, to read it. And if I had a son, which I don’t, I’d give him a copy when he left home just to help him bear in mind that it’s okay to cry from time to time.
When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow.
in Los Angeles all the loose objects in the country were collected, as if America had been tilted and everything that wasn’t tightly screwed down had slid into Southern California.
Everyone was like the faces on a playing card, upside down either way.
He heard it and sank deeper than sorrow, through torn sobs and cries toward the consummation of his heart’s ultimate need.
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