Every now and then I wander out from the ghetto of SFF and the rather larger bustling metropolis of current affairs into the mountain air sanatorium of modern-literary-fiction. I do it rarely. MLF to my mind is one of the final bastions of entitled intellectual privilege and self-awarded superiority left in the western world now that even the merely materially wealthy have started to understand the role of fortune in their fortunes. With a readership the size of a tiny village, perpetually denying it is actually a genre itself, somehow it still claims more real-estate in the media and in the prize stakes than any other genre. Worse still, it is usually terribly boring. Michael Chabon sums it up neatly as quoted here.
But there are always exceptions and Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain is one of them. Attracted to the title and the size (both of which reeked SFF to me), I first opened it in my late teens. I doubt I got all the way through but I read a lot more than I thought I had. The image he paints in the first few chapters has stayed with me all these years: a sanatorium of the idle rich located high in the mountains where every tanned and apparently healthy looking patient consumes endless meals while decaying from the inside. It is as good a metaphor of MLF as any.
Reading it now, I claim it along with most of the works of Kafka and Murakami as exemplars of well-written SFF.