Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Rosshalde - Hermann Hesse

After a break of a few months, I recently felt the urge to read another of Hermann Hesse's novels, and Rosshalde seemed to fit the bill.

The first thing to say is that Rosshalde explores many of the themes which are characteristic of Hesse's work. Also, the novel is set in the type of environs and atmosphere which, for reasons which are difficult to articulate, make his books so captivating, engaging and compulsive reading.  As ever, though, it is the subtle differences and tangents which enrich and augment the experience for the reader.

It would seem that this particular book is at least partly autobiographical.  It tells the story of an artist, Johann Veraguth, and his complex relations with his estranged wife and his two sons.  The title of the work refers to the country estate where the four people live.

Rosshalde looks at the dilemmas endured by Veraguth as he wrestles with his family obligations, and his devotion to his youngest son Pierre, as well as the opportunity to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and enlightenment, this being provided by his friend Otto Burkhardt.

In keeping with many of Hesse's novels, the writing is wonderfully rich and evocative, and it feels like every word is meant to count, there being minimal superfluous "padding".  The imagery formed by the words, and combinations of words, forms into one organic whole and seeps into the mind of the reader. This is particularly true of the passages describing the surroundings at Rosshalde, which consequently assumed for me the trappings of a state of mind as much as a geographical location. The author's humanity and zest for life and living ooze from every page, and he has the capacity to endow the mundane and workaday with a magic and impact.

The familiar Hesse themes of rebirth, self-realisation and consciousness are featured heavily, although they are perhaps pushed less overtly here than in some of his other works.

I discerned (rightly or wrongly) a few underlying messages and themes.  The state of living through somebody else (in this case the young Pierre), rather than for our own sake, and how this can cause us to settle for an existence which is delusive, and the course of which is precarious, tenuous and largely beyond our control. The difficulty of "letting go" in such circumstances, and the need for the intervention of an extraneous catalyst, deus ex machina, or unexpected event to break the cycle and liberate us. The tendency for people to feel comfortable, but numb, and not fulfilling ourselves, taking risks or making sacrifices.

Although the death of young Pierre makes this on the surface a less uplifting read than some of Hesse's other works, like those other novels it draws the reader in, exercising the mind, and evoking a sense of time and place.

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