We can say that the The Tanners does not have a plot; it does not follow the conventionalities of a novel, we meander through it, we read it, the main protagonist is dissatisfied throughout, so are we, the moment of revelation does not come but to expect it would be a mistake, that much is evident. And yet, Simon Tanner endears himself to us, we like him, he is a bit crazy, a likeable craziness, we love him for that, we like his prolixity, we who like prolixity. There is a hidden movement, one feels we move too as the seasons pass with their own regularity, and yet somehow, there is anxiety too, there is something left unfinished.
The Tanners is not really a saga of the Tanners family, for the three brothers and sisters exist in relation to the main character Simon, whose relationship, if at all, exists with the reader. Simon Tanner does not want to be fixed, he hates fixity, he flows like a stormy river, at times as placid as a pond in midsummer, like snow that melts he melts too and then his sudden bloom, in spring, he springs too. The Tanners does not explore the relationship that exists between the Tanners siblings but puts them in perspective, there is attachment and distance between the characters, that bond of childhood has somehow snapped. Simon moves on from one establishment to another, drifts from one job to another, without finding his metier. However, the crucial point is: he does not find a vocation because he does not want one.
Compare this to The Assistant or to Jakon Von Gunten who enrol into a job, into a decided course. Here Simon just drifts, he allows himself to drift. However, he does not actually hate money, for he knows its uses. Compare this to the concerns that Joseph Marti has in The Assistant where there is a very clear sense of dissatisfaction between bourgeoisie values and the actuality that those entail. Marti is aware of the gulf that exists between his employer and himself; Simon does not care, he simply resigns from the numerous positions he gets into because he has moved a step ahead. He drifts from country to city and is fully aware of the dichotomy that the two places bring. He lectures us about the religious dimensions of life in the country versus the city and his sympathies lie entirely with the countryside.
Simon Tanner does not express his love for the ladies he meets during the course of his life, which is alike with Marti in The Assistant. Marti and Von Gunten feel that they are worthless to be loved; Simon feels that he is worthy but must sacrifice himself for others' sake. Simon is cleverer than the other predecessors in that he knows to rebel, the first two are quieter and perhaps unsure. Simon suffers the melancholic pain of unexpressed love; but being a curious person, the lady who befriends him towards the end offers some hope. We do not know what happens eventually, but that is entirely in keeping with the nature of this novel. The creator Walser himself does not know.
The Tanners is a beautifully written novel and the translation I hope will have done justice to the original. Simon is not a philosopher yet, but he has moved from the reclusive thinker, or from the self meditating monk to an employment in the city. He philosophizes, he lectures on everything, he is aware of the politics and the social dynamics of his place, he does not favour immigration, he wants to live and die in his country. He settles to be on the side of the lost and the defeated but we do not know if he gets completely lost in the end.
The Tanners leaves you with many great aches; there are some fabulous passages and some great images. Walser predated Kafka and as I mentioned in my previous posts on Walser, I prefer Kafka but like Walser. Musil described Kafka as a curious case of the Walser type. There could be no more different writers than Musil and Walser. And as Sebald writes in the introductory essay, the sentences are so long, so dreamy that each preceding sentence seems to make us lose the thread of the one we are reading. I did not remember whether it was summer or winter. I wanted to just follow Simon Tanner and his banter, his sadness, his melancholy heart.