Whoever slipped the copy of that book to me at Nelson Thomlinson Grammar School that summer set me on a pathby Melvyn Bragg / May 9, 2019 / Leave a comment
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
It was 1957 and I had just finished doing my A Levels. It was a beautiful summer and a chance to loll in the long grass at school besides the tennis courts. I have no idea how I came by the novel. I had begun to branch out of English literature early on and had read American, Russian and French writers but I can’t remember ever having read a German author at that point.
Somehow this book landed in my hands and I was wholly swept away by it. Maybe it was the surfeit relief after the febrile intensity of those exams which put me on high alert, but I found Mann’s work so enjoyable that I read it again immediately. I then tracked down as many of his books as I could get hold of. He never failed.
Buddenbrooks sent one clear message to me: through a two or three generational novel set in a particular place you could take on the world as it was at the time—that is if you were Thomas Mann. When I began to organise my own scribblings into a novel the idea of following a generation in one place had influenced me greatly. Whoever slipped the copy of that book to me at Nelson Thomlinson Grammar School that summer set me on a path. Sometimes it was tougher than I’d anticipated.
Melvyn Bragg will discuss “Love Without End: A Story of Heloise and Abelard” on the Baillie Gifford Stage, Sunday 26th May 2019, 11.30am
Read more contributors on the books that changed their lives