Thursday, September 29, 2011


SteppenwolfSteppenwolf by Hermann Hesse

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Harry Haller fights a battle ever day against his animalistic nature, the Steppenwolf, the thing keeping him from fitting in with society. Will he conquer the Steppenwolf before it drives him to suicide?

I'd toyed with the idea of paraphrasing the opening of the 1970's Incredible Hulk TV show but it felt disrespectful to a book of this power. Steppenwolf is one of the more thought-provoking books I've ever read. I lost count of the number of times I stopped and pondered my own Steppenwolfishness.

Harry Haller is approaching 50, has few friends, and is contemplating suicide on his 50th birthday. For the most part, his friends are books and music. Seeing as how I'm writing this review on a website devoted to reading, I think more than a few of us can relate to Haller on some level. Who among us hasn't been at a party and thought "Man, I could be reading right now."

Haller's life starts spinning out of control when a strange man gives him a book entitled The Treatise of the Steppenwolf, in which he is mentioned by name. From there, Haller meets Hermine, a woman who guides him on a journey of self discovery (with sex and drugs.) The book takes a bizarre turn near the end.

The writing style is fairly accessible, even though it's been translated from German. Hesse throws a lot of big ideas around, like don't be afraid of life, don't let time get away from you, etc. I caught some references to Eastern religions, which makes sense since Hesse also wrote Siddhartha.

I don't think I'm doing a great job of conveying what I thought about this book. It reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye at some moments and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday at others. I'm also struggling with how to rate it. I thought it was powerful and full of lots of interesting ideas but I'm not sure I actually liked it.

That's about all I have at the moment. I'm giving it a 4 with the caveat that I'll probably have to re-read it again sometime down the line to fully absorb it.

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