I have never been proficient in endings. Unfinished travel diaries, unfinished life projects, the last raspberry in the punnet, the relationship over but not yet ended, the job waiting to be quit, the novel started and browning like an apple core on the side; I am guilty of all and more.
In fact, I do not relish the end but nor do I relish beginnings. I prefer instead to be trapped in the space between places, neither still at A nor yet at B is the state in my mind of the highest enjoyment: happy memories married to yet unspent potential and the thrill of a little uncertainty.
Perhaps then it is fitting that among the shelves of my favourite books is at least one that I have never finished. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann has presented itself to me as an enormous obstacle, the summit of which I have never reached. On three occasions I have set out from the base camp of my Vintage translation – the safe ground of a strong introduction – for the heights and ravines of the text itself.
“We say of time that it passes. Very good, let it pass. But to be able to measure it – wait a minute: to be susceptible of being measured, time must flow evenly, but who ever said it did that? … Our units of measurement are purely arbitrary, sheer conventions.”
My relationship with this book is like this quotation from it. By the conventional unit of measurement of any novel (itself), my reading has been a failure. I have not read the entire unit. But I have relished the many individual units of the book that I have read. I have now bought the book twice, started it three times, given it to charity once and never been less than one third from the end. I always start from the beginning (perhaps that is my mistake) and read until life gets in the way which it all too often does. So for me, this book represents a lifetime project, a secret tryst known only to me (and now you) and the book itself.
Regardless of whether I read to its end or not, The Magic Mountain is a book that I have picked up once and will never fully relinquish, a book that I will continue to read for as long as I have sight and strength enough to do so and even after that, a book whose spine will remain unbent and unchanged by the books that come in between, the books that I read tonight and tomorrow, the books that I eat up hungrily in a single sitting or luxuriate over for an entire weekend. The Magic Mountain and I have a lifetime to eek out – it concealing one third of its story from me, me always relishing the two thirds of pages turned, the one third still ahead, unrevealed – suspended as I wish always to be not at place A nor yet arrived at place B.
So I have begun reading The Magic Mountain once again. Perhaps I will come to feel about this book much as I do about other things (life, love, friendship – things like that), better always to leave one third in the future, unread. This series will track my reading of the book and though I cannot tell you yet where it will end, I can promise you, at least, there will be more.