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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Der Weg nach Xanadu

by
Wilfried Steiner


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Der Weg nach Xanadu



Title: Der Weg nach Xanadu
Author: Wilfried Steiner
Genre: Novel
Written: 2003
Length: 286 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Der Weg nach Xanadu - Deutschland
  • Der Weg nach Xanadu has not been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : an enjoyable literary story with some clever ideas, but not quite gripping enough

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 2/8/2003 Paul Jandl
Die Welt . 6/3/2004 Hartmut Mangold


  From the Reviews:
  • "Der Weg nach Xanadu ist literarhistorischer Traktat und Gothic Fiction, Lebenskrisen- und Liebesroman -- ein auftrumpfendes Spektakel jedenfalls, das die Lesbarkeit über weite Strecken der allenthalben funkelnden Belesenheit opfert. (...) Wilfried Steiners Roman treibt Mummenschanz und Philologie, das eine so masslos wie das andere. Wo der Österreicher allerdings seine Anstrengungen in beide Richtungen einmal vergisst, leuchtet eine Ironie aus den Sätzen, die dem Buch erzählerische Leichtigkeit verleiht und jedenfalls weit mehr Autorität als sein halsbrecherisch verknotetes Beziehungsgeflecht." - Paul Jandl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Steiners Roman verknüpft in gleichsam im Kreuzstich angeordneten Kapiteln eine mit Witz und souveräner Urteilsfreude erzählte Literaturgeschichte der englischen Romantik mit der austrischen Variante eines englischen Universitätsromans. Leider gelingt es Wilfried Steiner nicht wirklich, die Kapitelfolge zu einem dichten Gewebe zu vernähen." - Hartmut Mangold, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Wilfried Steiner's Der Weg nach Xanadu is narrated by a middle-aged academic in Vienna, Austria, Alexander Markowitsch, a specialist in the English Romantics. A student comes to him, asking him to be his thesis adviser. Markowitsch isn't impressed by Martin (only even bothering to mention his name many pages into the book) or his thesis-subject ("S.T.C" -- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as it turns out, though it takes the professor a bit to figure that out). But Martin is accompanied by a girl, Anna, and when Markowitsch catches sight of her things change: he can't let this slip away.
       Samuel Taylor Coleridge does stir up old memories, and Markowitsch recounts (for the reader, not his student) his youthful infatuation with the poet and his work -- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the mysterious Kubla Khan -- and his interest in the stories and mysteries surrounding the man, including why he produced so much wonderful work within a short span of time and so little poetry of much worth outside that brief period. Markowitsch had also briefly flirted with poetry-writing but had long since given it up for dry academics -- and when it came to his own thesis he did not choose STC's flights of fancy but rather something much more down to earth.
       It is solely because of Anna that Markowitsch agrees to become Martin's thesis adviser: he is completely smitten by her. She is a student of astronomy, a star-gazer of a different sort than the literary Markowitsch (who, for quite some time now, doesn't seem to have set his sights very far even in fantasies). Markowitsch invites both to his house for dinner, where he knows how to impress with food and wine (his main joys in life at the moment). The return-invitation is then all the more pleasing when Anna invites only him. Romance doesn't develop, but there is something in the air.
       What, exactly, is in the air -- and how he should act on it -- isn't entirely clear to Markowitsch. He enlists the help of a friend, but doesn't get much solid advice. Still, his life and lifestyle change, as he finds that, almost without knowing it, he begins to distance himself from his university colleagues and the doings at his workplace and instead enjoys life much more in the company of Martin and Anna.
       The first part of the novel -- which is divided fairly neatly in half -- describes these events, focussing both on Markowitsch's life being turned a bit upside down and allowing for some exploration of different perspectives on Coleridge and his work. Steiner includes whole chapters consisting of relevant, sometimes page-long excerpts from the writings of others too, W.G.Sebald and Borges among them.
       Markowitsch also finds himself haunted by dreams -- the one constant in them being a specific room -- and it is Anna who gives him the final necessary push. The dream-room, they both believe, has some connexion to Coleridge, and what Markowitsch must do is try to find it. Presumably it is one of the rooms Coleridge once lived in.
       The second half of the novel then follows Markowitsch's research in England -- hot (or more often, cool) on the trail of Coleridge and the mystery room. He makes and muddles his way around the Lake District, offering a mix of descriptions of his vaguely literary detective work and very touristic travel-tales, interspersed with biographical bits about Coleridge (and friends and family).
       Coleridge and the biographical detail -- especially around that one magical year -- do play a role in the ultimate resolution, but the build-up isn't entirely successful, dragging a bit as Markowitsch stumbles about. When it comes, the resolution does impress: it's a clever idea, tying up the loose ends -- from Anna to some literary-historical curiosities -- and an appealing pay-off for what has come before.
       The book is an entertaining read -- perhaps more so for those not familiar with Coleridge, since Steiner goes into great (and often basic) detail about the man and work, material that will, in large part, be familiar to anyone who has ever bothered with Coleridge at all. The biographical detail, even if familiar, does make for interesting stories, but it's also not always neatly tied to the present and Markowitsch's quest -- or at least it isn't until the very end, making for something of a long wait. Steiner avoids being too school-masterish in his presentation of the historical material (and the long quotes from Borges, Coleridge and others also help loosen things up), but he can't quite catch that truly fantastical poetic atmosphere (though he does have a good deal of fun with the money-grubbing mundane of present-day England).
       Der Weg nach Xanadu is a solid entertainment, brought to a nice conclusion, but not as consistently engaging as one might have hoped.

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Links:

Der Weg nach Xanadu: Reviews: Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Other books by Wilfried Steiner under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Wilfried Steiner was born in 1960.

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© 2003-2010 the complete review

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