This is perhaps a mountain of a book that can be categorized as a spectacular piece of literature. You know, sometimes, a grandiose book would appear, and it is grand and spectacular, not simple because of its size, but because it is a magnificent tour de force in all respects. Works such as Thomas Pynchon's V and Roberto Bolaño's 2666 come to mind. I believe The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann is another one of them. So before I review this book, let me provide the requisite synopsis.
The Magic Mountain takes place in a sanatorium in Davos, in the Swiss Alps. The story is set in the early 20th century, and revolves around Hans Castorp. Hans Castorp heads up to Davos to visit his cousin, Joachim Ziemssen, who has been undertaking treatment in the sanatorium. What initially is planned as a three-week visit ends up to be seven years, as Hans Castorp visits his cousin, develops a sickness of his own worth curing, and interacting with the various characters that are present in his surroundings. People come and go, and characters enter and exit, either temporarily (by heading down to the flat lands) or permanently (by dying).
So, perhaps the most troubling aspect about this book is about coherence. I have this idea that it is just too big to be a coherent work. I felt the same way with respect to Roberto Bolaño's 2666 as well (however, I think that was the beauty of that work, that it was mysterious and slightly incoherent). For The Magic Mountain, however, it is coherent, but certain bits and pieces make me do a double-take on that factor.
See, I think this is a novel that functions as a vehicle for Mann to illustrate the various philosophies that are prevalent during his day. Characters are actually allegorical and symbolic, and stand as archetypes for different philosophies. Ludovico Settembrini, for example, is the personification of humanism, while Joachim Ziemssen is the person who always follows duty over anything. Naphta, on the other hand, is the radical. And the whole novel is just a dialogue between these different people, as Mann provides an exposition with respect to these different philosophies.