Thomas Mann's Death in Venice is not so much a story, as it a feeling. The plot- an aging writer travels to Venice and becomes obsessed with a teenage boy because of his youth and beauty- is more a mere delicate framework for the layers and layers of atmosphere, inner turmoil and self-reckoning that swaddle, and almost suffocate, this novel. In many ways, it perfectly encapsulates one of the greatest emotions of the modernist era: anxiety. Like Camu's The Stranger and Tennessee William's Suddenly, Last Summer, the heat, the air and the assaulting world on the edge of the self seem to take on a life as volatile as the main character's and create a deep sense of desperation and paranoia. This is not a feel-good book and it will probably leave you unsatisfied, perhaps feeling a little anxious, perhaps now haunted with an unexplainable echo of dread.
But it will also give you tremendous insight into the life of a writer, an artist or maybe even yourself. Mann's genius is in being able to write about the human mind in such detail, and with such nuance, that, for a moment, you can actually step into the soul of a character and truly understand him. You may not be able to relate to Gustav von Aschenbach, but you will understand him, and that pure, raw moment where the author and the reader connect and become in sync within a character is worth the read on its own.
"And his soul savored the debauchery and delirium of doom." (129)