The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
By: Rainer Maria Rilke
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
‘There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several.’
While his old furniture rots in storage, Malte Laurids Brigge lives in a cheap room in Paris, with little but a library reader’s card to distinguish him from the city’s untouchables. Every person he sees seems to carry their death with them, and he thinks of the deaths, and ghosts, of his aristocratic family, of which only he remains. The only novel by one of the greatest writers of poetry in German, the semi-autobiographical Notebooks is an uneasy, compelling and poetic book that anticipated Sartre and is full of passages of lyrical brilliance.
I picked this book up on a whim when Pocket Penguins were introduced earlier this year. Firstly, I love how stunning this new series is; the covers are simple, similar to the Little Black Classics, but they are colour-coded depending on which country they’re from (in this case, olive green for German literature). Aside from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, I actually haven’t read any of Rilke’s poetry or works so I thought this would be a good introduction to his writings.
It was within the first few pages of this book that I realised I was holding something really interesting, really stunning, in my hands. As a poet, Rilke has this way of finding the right words to describe what he sees and tap into what he feels through the character of Malte Laurids Brigge. As they are the notebooks of this character, there’s no real plot to the book, but instead we navigate with Malte through his feelings about life and death, old age, love and reading and writing, and his memories of his childhood and his relationships with his family and those closest to him. It’s interesting, and it’s Rilke’s writing and observations that really elevate these bouts of introspection to stunning heights:
For some time yet, I shall still be able to write all of these things down or say them. But a day will come when my hand will be far away from me, and, when I command it to write, the words it writes will be ones I do not intend. The time of that other interpretation will come, and not one word will be left upon another, and all the meanings will dissolve like couds and fall like rain. – p. 37-38
There’s nothing else I can really say about this book except it was just a fascinating read with a lot of food for thought. I’m looking forward to picking up his poetry and other works at some point 😀