The Man Without Qualities (Paperback)
The Man Without Qualities as a novel is a "story of ideas", which takes place in the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy's last days, and the plot often veers into allegorical digressions on a wide range of existential themes concerning humanity and feelings. It has a particular concern with the values of truth and opinion and how society organizes ideas about life and society.
A 32-year-old mathematician named Ulrich who is in search of a sense of life and reality but fails to find it. His ambivalence towards morals and indifference to life has brought him to the state of being "a man without qualities", depending on the outer world to form his character. A kind of keenly analytical passivity is his most typical attitude.
Musil once said that it is not particularly difficult to describe Ulrich in his main features. Ulrich himself only knows he is strangely indifferent to all his qualities. Lack of any profound essence and ambiguity as a general attitude to life are his principal characteristics.
Meanwhile, we meet a murderer and rapist, Moosbrugger, who is condemned for his murder of a prostitute. Other protagonists are Ulrich's mistress, Bonadea, and Clarisse, his friend Walter's neurotic wife, whose refusal to go along with commonplace existence leads to Walter's insanity.
Robert McCrum ranked it one of the top 10 books of the 20th century: "This is a meditation on the plight of the little man lost in a great machine. One of Europe's unquestioned 20th-century masterpieces."