DRUM ROLL.....FANFARE...CHORUS OF HALLELUJAHS...I have finally read it, and no self-respecting idolizer of Joseph Roth can wear that badge with pride until they have apparently.
I may be awaiting membership of the Dickens' Society but meanwhile perhaps I can claim membership of the Roth Association.
In a way it would seem there are advantages to this approach, read and love Roth's hors d'oeuvres and how can you fail to appreciate the main course? And now, sated to the brim, how perfect to be able to wander back to the canapes now and again?
It is the perfect read for these long,overcast winter afternoons of half light (when you don't have to go to work that is) so I set off for a wander in that melancholy, Mittel European world of the dying days of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the rule of the Habsburgs and I was not disappointed.
Here you meet a different Trotta family to the one we are all more familiar with but one no less influenced by Grandad (Only Fools and Horses, a UK comedy TV series for the unitiated)
Poor Carl Joseph Von Trotta the grandson of the famous Hero of Solferino who in a flash of reflex reaction had saved the Emperor Franz Josef from certain death and was for ever after exalted as he who must be lived up to.Even his portrait on the wall is too high for Carl Joseph to see, it's all a very tall order.
What follows is a life of disillusion, unmet expectations and a constant need to try and live up to the pride of the family name.Except it's the family who have created this burden for themselves and gradually you watch it all unravel as they are reduced to the normal emotional human beings they ever were.
All finely juxtaposed with the bigger picture as you witness the death throes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this in the days immediately prior to the assassination of heir presumptive, Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo. Brief research reveals that his wife Maria (assassinated alongside her husband) was a descendant of the Sicilian royals so I could probably square the circle and link back to Emma and Horatio if I tried hard enough.
Michael Hoffman the gifted translator of this book makes a very interesting observation in his introduction.Roth was writing in 1930 at a time when the aim of the novel was "to write more and more about less and less.Consciousness, especially self-consciousness ballooned, the less there was to be more conscious about" .I had never considered it in quite those terms.
So here's the grand exception to the rule, The Radetzky March a big book full to overflowing with life's events "love, loss, honour, career, betrayal, frustration, death" and all in such depth that a single first reading can barely touch it.
This will be a book to read and read again.