On any long journey, it is helpful to have waymarkers to measure the progress made. On a mountain, this might be measured in altitude gained or miles travelled; in a book, it is recorded in terms of pages and chapters and sections.
One notable waymarker that I passed some time back and, at the time, without so much as a nod of recognition, was page 100. It was only later that I realised that I was now in uncharted territory in my ascent of The Magic Mountain.
My latest overnight camps have been made at pages 146 and 251 and 366. I have been making good, steady progress, although I recognise it is at a cost. I am having to put in more labour for each page turned than I was in the foothills of the novel. It is the same experience when feeling a slight tightening at the back of the calf as the incline of a slope becomes imperceptibly steeper.
The structure of The Magic Mountain adds to this illusion. Whereas the early chapters are short and seem to flow past at a good rate of knots, suddenly the chapter length begins to increase––5 pages turn to 20––and the encouraging waymarkers, which have been my guide, in turn, become fewer and further between, with the next staging post of a new chapter an ever-widening distance ahead. And I know that this difficulty is only going to increase. I have already glanced at the route ahead; noticed the great buttress chapter ‘A Soldier, and Brave’, which spans pages 498 through 540. 43 pages: it is a significant hurdle before my final ascent to the summit.
But that lies ahead. There is a lot of ground to cover before I even reach the buttress. I cannot afford to get discouraged.
The next step is page 367: “Long days––the longest, objectively speaking…”
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow tries not to look back.