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The Glass Bead Game


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I bought this book with some birthday book tokens - looking for some big, fat novels that would take ages to read, and that would be different from anything I'd read before (no point spending tokens on something I'll finish in a day or two - I'll buy those sort of books second hand!)


It worked on both counts - a really strange book, and rather densely written, so 10 or so pages at a time was plenty, especially at the start while I was figuring out what was going on.


It's set a few centuries in the future, although there is no advanced technology at all, so it's certainly doesn't feel like sci-fi. It tells of a culture dedicated to the playing of "The Glass Bead Game" which is a kind of weird abstraction of all the arts and sciences, reduced to their essential patterns (yeah, I had to work hard to get a grip on that) We follow one extremely talented boy as he progresses up the hierarchy to the very top of this introverted, sheltered society, and what he finds when he got there.


I'd never even heard of this book, until I saw it in Waterstones, but a few days after I started reading it, I turned Radio 4 on and was surprised to find the very same book was being dramatised as the Classic Serial. (The first episode is still available on Listen Again for three more days...Classic Serial: The Glass Bead Game


Very strange, but rather readable and some very interesting ideas about how societies develop and interact with each other!


It was written in Germany, in the 1950s, and I'm just starting to wonder how that context shaped what was written.


Anyone else even heard of this, never mind read it!?

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Hi. I read this over 35 years ago when I was about 17. Im not sure that I had the maturity for it then and I keep meaning to go back and try again. I remember thinking that it was easier to read than Sam Beckett's trilogy but it was a difficult read. I went on to read Hesse's Steppenwolf and a collection of his poems called Wandering. Sadly, if they had an impact it is now deep within. In fact I really must go back and read it. All I seem to have taken from it was music and mathematics.


Don't know much about its origins or the brew from which it was distilled but given 1950's Germany we must be looking at the influence of the interwar years and rise of National Socialism. Artistically, pehaps Neue Sachlichkeit influences. I don't know but I think I'll find out.

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