This is a great example and a good novel in a kind of mini-genre. This is a book about a young poet bumming around Paris. I didn’t even know this was a novel going in since Rainer Maria Rilke is most well-known as a poet and for being the author of “Letters to a Young Poet” in which the narrator answer queries from a friend of a friend trying to break into poetry. He more or less tells him it’s not worth it.
But, this book is set as a series of notebooks written in the early 1900s of a young Danish poet from a wealthy, aristocratic family with a kind of storied history. The novel splits its time in a few different ways. One, narrating the experiences of being young and in Paris, meeting writers, looking at women, eating, drinking, and doing all the other kinds of things you do in Paris. Another, is dealing with his family history and thinking through it and kind of placing himself within. And three, thinking about Being in the World and what that means.
So the experience of reading this novel is to recognize that you’re not getting very much if any real plot. I’ve basically told you the whole plot. But instead, it’s a lot of thinking, being, and thinking about being.
The books it is most like is of course Swann’s Way, which is more or less contemporary with this novel and Speak, Memory by Nabokov. It’s thoughtful and interesting, but well, you do have to be in to it.