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Moss (1984)

by Klaus Modick

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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258734,406 (3.72)3

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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
When it comes to the magnificent old pine tree whose branches beat against my upper windows, I can name it “correctly” and conceptually disassemble it right down to its molecular structure. But I have no way of describing the language with which the tree, in knocking against the window, speaks to me.

With nature themes and a meta-literature premise narrated by an aging botanist who specializes in nomenclature, I was excited to snag this novella through LT’s Early Reviewers. Then I started it, and started it again, and again… I don’t know…the passage above captured me a couple dozen pages in, but I felt I was reading the whole rest of it with glazed eyes. ( )
  DetailMuse | Apr 10, 2021 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I select virtually all of my reading material, so it's rare not to have expectations for it. Expectations figure in deciding it's worth reading at all, of course, but also when to read it. Many books wait on my shelves for the right time, which frequently isn't for years. That little reading I do without any real expectations is attributable either to the book being a gift, or somehow being "assigned". These days, assignments typically are short form: essays, perhaps an article for work. Only gifts are likely to be longform, and most of these were selected to match an interest, so these also come with some expectation "built-in".

In the case of Moss, I anticipated a blend of reflective essay (perhaps more botanical than philosophical, though I was hopeful for both) and modern Weird fiction. I'm drawn to that strain of Weird with commentary on reason and rationality, so to my mind such an expectation wasn't outlandish. Modick here incorporates several tropes into his novel which suggested my expectations: a found manuscript; the death of the narrator's brother whose recluse lifestyle developed out of his work in psychological theory; the cabin in which the dead man was found, covered in moss.

While it's true the novel has a strong meditative feel to it, I found it more personal than world-disclosive, and also light on Weird. The early botanical musings were tantalising, but felt more like diversions than prominent features of the story. Similarly, I saw several hints at Weird, but these also didn't pan out in terms of understanding the brother's demise. So while many elements I anticipated were in fact present, and while the tone and style fit what I'd hoped to find, still somehow the story didn't come together for me.

Generally, my expectations aren't fully met in my reading. Even so, usually I enjoy the books I read, because other aspects of the story prove compelling, or other qualities in the narrative speak to other interests I have. Modick didn't provide that, though the overwhelming experience was of something lacking rather than anything proving to be explicitly bad. Looking back, I recognise there was an element of "assigned reading", since the book was awarded as part of LTER, and I felt responsible for reading it sooner than I might elsewise have done. I'm left wondering if my expectations here hindered my reading experience. It's possible I lost Modick's thread in attending overly to my expectations, rather than to where the text, in fact, led. ( )
  elenchus | Dec 31, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
An interesting brief bildungsroman of sorts, where the character, rather than growing up, grows into his death. The text is presented as a "found manuscript" published after the author's death.

The protagonist tries to move away from the language of (botanical) science in which he spent his adult life in order to achieve a different kind of knowledge, more holistic.

While a reader may disagree with the stance of the character - Lukhas Ohlburg (and it is hard not to consider him an alter ego of the author, whose name is an anagram of the character's: Klaus), his approach to the subject matter of how to perceive reality is nevertheless compelling. ( )
1 vote MariaLuisaLacroix | Sep 28, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A true curiosity! An aging botanist writing a treatise on scientific classification that should be his legacy work finds himself stuck on moss, more and more literally. While writing, he lives in a family vacation cottage that is prone to invasive moisture during seasonal transitions and to moss growing on the roof. He rejects the seasonal scraping of the moss that was one of his father's obsessions. He relates youthful stories of lovemaking in the moss. He begins to revere it, and to envision himself as supporting its growth. He gives up shaving and begins to muse about his own death, the greenery that will survive him and thrive upon him.

David Herman, the translator, had his work cut out for him in making this German language work come alive in English, working closely with the author. Philosophical and inward-turning abstractions are reworked as poetry, as in this bit involving the advantage of a wood fire over coal: “. . . it makes me sad that I have not known, not seen, not cut down myself the trees that undergo this transformation from a luscious green to a red-hot vital force, giving life . . . No one piece looks like another—a banality that has been banal for so long that it is no longer recognized as such. Yet the variety, particularly of burl wood, is more than astounding. I attempt to estimate the age of the wood by reconstructing the size of the trees, their double life in earth and air, their simultaneous upward and downward growth. Now and then I chew small pieces of bark, especially ones that already have moss attached to them.”

Moss was originally published over thirty years ago. As with Heroine, another book I reviewed recently, reading Moss I often had the sensation of a string of eternity vibrating between the past and the present. Rather than offering persistent arguments and scenarios on women and society (Heroine), Moss relates concern that political policy is ambivalent when it comes to the environment. “Could it be,” the narrator writes, relating a conversation with a friend, “that people had finally grasped that not politics but, rather, nature constitutes the true concern of mankind? But how, exactly, does one go about doing politics by means of nature?” ( )
  deeEhmm | Aug 6, 2020 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Order, control, separation from nature. That is what his father had taught. Upon arriving at their woodland cabin, as a child his duty had been to scrub the moss from the stone pathway. The child objected, "But the moss is so lovely."

Now, he is old and endeavoring to form a lifetime of insight into his final paper critiquing nomenclature. He questions his father's teaching and the science of his academic career as a biologist.

Why do we divide ourselves from nature? What can we learn from moss? Shouldn't our goal be wonder and joy of beauty, not arcane facts and artificial categories?

Returning to that family cabin, surrounded by the forest, he embraces death as part of life, the natural cycle.

Science gives way to connection.

When his manuscript is found after his death, it was not what people expected. He renamed it "Moss."

Oh, I thought, another novel about age and death! I am already too aware of the passing years, how I have outlived so many family members! And with a pandemic, every one of us is faced with our mortality and aware of the uncertainty of life.

I feel the depth of this story eludes me, calling me to reread and grapple with all that lies beneath it's misleading simplicity and the beauty of its poetry.

I received a free book from the publisher through LibraryThing. My review is fair and unbiased. ( )
  nancyadair | Aug 6, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Klaus Modickprimary authorall editionscalculated
Herman, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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