Books: Tale from the Vienna Woods

THE DEMONS (1,334 pp., 2 vols.)—Heimito von Doderer—Knopf ($13.50).

Vienna in the 1920s—with its coffeehouse society making a last whipped-cream stand against change, with the Franz Josef heel-clicks just receding and the Nazi jackboots faintly approaching—is both scene and protagonist of Heimito von Doderer's two-volume, half-million word novel The Demons, which was 25 years in the writing and two years in translation. The American edition contains a publisher's list of characters numbering 142, with 31 starred as principals.

The narrator is Georg von Geyrenhoff, a civil servant retired in early middle age who, from the vantage point of the 1950s, sets down...

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