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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Flying Mountain

Christoph Ransmayr

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To purchase The Flying Mountain

Title: The Flying Mountain
Author: Christoph Ransmayr
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2018)
Length: 359 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Flying Mountain - US
The Flying Mountain - UK
The Flying Mountain - Canada
The Flying Mountain - India
La Montagne volante - France
Der fliegende Berg - Deutschland
La montagna volante - Italia
  • German title: Der fliegende Berg
  • Translated by Simon Pare

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Our Assessment:

A- : unusual form effectively employed

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 4/10/2006 Tilman Spreckelsen
NZZ . 23/9/2006 Andreas Breitenstein
Die Welt . 30/9/2006 Uwe Wittstock
Die Zeit . 7/9/2006 Ludger Lütkehaus

  From the Reviews:
  • "So ist dem Buch bei aller stupenden Sprachgewalt, die Ransmayr klug zu zügeln weiß, um sich ihr dann wieder ganz zu überlassen, auch ein Moment des Innehaltens, der Überlegung, des Stockens eingeschrieben. Zwischen dem Erlebten und der Schilderung liegt ein Schleier, und wenn die literarische Form dieses Buches noch einer Rechtfertigung bedarf, so liegt sie hier begründet: Klüger, kalkulierter und mutiger jedenfalls hat lange kein Autor mehr vom Gang ins Eis erzählt. Und von der Bruderliebe auch." - Tilman Spreckelsen, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Auftrumpfend wie eine Wagner-Ouverture, hebt der Text an in der für den Autor typischen Ästhetik des Erhabenen. Eine Verwandlung geschieht -- wir befinden uns im Herz des Ransmayrschen Erzählkosmos. Steil ist die Semantik, gespannt die Syntax, virtuos die Komposition. Fast alle Themen und Motive, die der Roman entfaltet, finden sich verdichtet und aufgehoben -- auch im Sinn einer coincidentia oppositorum. (...) Der fliegende Berg ist Trauerarbeit, Liebeserklärung und Abrechnung zugleich. (...) Die Strophenform ist für den Leser gewöhnungsbedürftig." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Das ist sicher nicht nach jedermanns Geschmack. Wer seine Ohren ganz auf die oft kühlen, lakonischen Töne unserer Gegenwartsliteratur eingestimmt hat, kann das gelegentlich als fremd und pathetisch empfinden. Doch gehört ebendies, gehören der Abschied vom Gewohnten und die Konfrontation mit einem wieder entdeckten existenziellen Ernst zum Programm dieses Romans. Wer bereit ist, sich darauf einzulassen, finden in diesem Buch eine Sprache von überwältigender, von erschütternder Schönheit." - Uwe Wittstock, Die Welt

  • "Die Erschwerung der Lektüre ist anfangs nicht unbeträchtlich. In der zeitgenössischen Romanliteratur handelt es sich um ein Unikum, ein risikoreiches formales Experiment. (...) Aber Ransmayrs Fliegender Berg erinnert auch daran, dass gerade große Literatur öfters dort entsteht, wo die Kitschgrenze nur haarscharf vermieden wird.(...) Es lohnt sich, den Roman zweimal und dann laut zu lesen." - Ludger Lütkehaus, Die Zeit

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:

[Note: this review is based on the German original, but all translations are from Simon Pare's English translation, which I also had access to.]

       The Flying Mountain is a novel in verse -- or at least a text that Ransmayr, in an introductory Aside, calls: "consisting of floating lines, i.e. lines of unequal length" (though he specifically differentiates it from poetry). The form may be very free, lacking meter and rhyme, but there is definitely a more poetic feel to the language, and a rhythm to the lines: for all of Ransmayr's protestations, it reads (and, especially, sounds) more like verse than prose.
       It has quite the opening, too:

I died
six thousand, eight hundred and forty metres above sea level
on the fourth of May in the Year of the Horse.
       In fact, while close to death, the narrator did not die; his brother, with whom he had been climbing: "had talked me back from death" -- and in fact it was his brother who died that night. (The stark acknowledgement: "My brother is dead" is a separate line in the original German; in the English it sits atop and is connected to the following verse, diminishing the effect slightly.)
       The Flying Mountain is, essentially, the story of two brothers who travel to China with the ambition of conquering a Himalayan peak, Phur-Ri. The conclusion is foregone: from early on the outcome, and the death, are known -- yet while this conclusion hangs over the rest of the story, the novel manages to remain surprisingly suspenseful.
       The two brothers grew up in Ireland, raised by a tough father after their mother abandoned the family, running away with another man. The narrator, Pad, became seafaring, spending most of his life at sea. His brother, Liam, was a successful computer programmer, able to afford tailoring a retreat for himself on small Horse Island -- close to their childhood home, yet separated from it --, fixing up a house there with all the comforts (and computer screens), but often cut off from the mainland (and Liam remains the only full-time resident there). Liam convinced his brother to join him on dry (if isolated) land, and then to partner with him on this carefully planned expedition.
       A lot goes into the preparations, and there are obvious logistical difficulties, notably in eventually evading the authorities in China, but Liam is thorough, capable, and determined:
And by and large it played out as he had foreseen
Liam found everything easy to grasp
(and it was indeed very simple)
every one of our steps served the sole purpose
of eliminating a blank spot from his maps.
       The stories behind Phur-Ri, and the concept of flying mountains, are appealing. For one, it's meant literally:
       this name
was a description of reality,
of a visible, palpable event.
       The locals claim to have actually seen the unmoored mountain float up --:
     and disappeared, yes flew away
and yet always returned.
       Particularly nice is the idea that the story of flying mountains is not one to be recounted like a conventional tale, that it can't be some campfire story shared among a larger group, but rather: "only ever a question between two people, / one of whom listened while the other spoke". And:
stories such as that of a flying mountain were to be
transformed inside each mind into something new and unique.
Each person was to spin his own tale,
his own story, and thereby make it
something distinctive and exceptional,
something he could believe in forever like himself.
       [In German that last line is: "an das er glauben konnte wie an sich selbst"; which: 'he could believe in as certainly as in himself' seem scloser to.]
       The differences between the two brothers, in personality and attitudes, also come into sharper focus as they proceed. Single-minded goal-driven Liam -- who gets impatient and can barely hold himself back once close to the goal -- remains something of an enigma for Pad, who is much more readily able to give himself into the process -- to feel at home among the locals whom they slowly approach the mountain with.
       A major difference is that Liam remains isolated -- his eyes only on the prize -- while Pad falls for and becomes involved with a young widow among the locals, Nyema. (Liam is a frustrated homosexual who, even with his organizational skills, is unable to establish a relationship on his island-retreat, knowing open homosexuality would make life impossible in the conservative country he lives; Pad describes some of Liam's harebrained ideas to establish some sort of cover for the lifestyle he wants to indulge in, none of which work out.)
       It is Liam, of course, who pulls them ahead into the final ascent -- certain they'll be back in safety within two days, even as they are warned by the locals, many of whom believe:
anyone who set foot on the tip of a flying mountain
ran the risk of being hurled
out of the world before his time
or sent spinning out into space.
       Despite their familiarity with the region and proximity to the mountain, the locals tread carefully around it. It is larger than life -- and even close up, there's little (literal) clarity surrounding it: the brothers' approach, then, is remarkably described, Phur-Ri showing: "itself only in fragments" to them as they near it. And, of course, the reader knows what will happen to them on the mountain.
       The Flying Mountain has the look, and then the feel, of an epic tale. It is not solely man versus mountain (and elements), but also a tale of brothers, family, Ireland, and love. The family and national history -- one of departures -- are inescapable; Pad's long years at sea certainly another attempt to go, without getting anywhere. Nyema offers him an opportunity to settle down and into something -- and he notes that: "I promised I would come back" --, but the book and his story closes with him on his brother's island, an island unto himself.
       The Flying Mountain is a powerful and well-told story, the verse-like presentation particularly effective. Liam perhaps remains too enigmatic and unreachable, and the relationship with Nyema feels almost too convenient, but overall the novel is a resounding, and nicely haunting, success.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 June 2018

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The Flying Mountain: Reviews: Christoph Ransmayr: Other books by Christoph Ransmayr under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of German literature

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Christoph Ransmayr was born in 1954

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© 2018-2021 the complete review

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