The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
This book is on BBC’s list of 100 books to Read Before You Die. It comes highly praised as a literary classic. But unless the Sunday Times was being sarcastic; or the Beeb placed it on the wrong list (it was supposed to be on 100 books that’ll make you want to die), then I can only disagree. Vehemently.
The ‘novel’ goes back and forth between the stories of Tomas, Tereza, Franz and Sabina, four Europeans whose adult lives are tied together by Tomas’ and Franz’s infidelities. Kundera doesn’t give the reader a chance to get to know these people. I knew about them, but I felt no real connection. I found it hard to picture faces and places; everything had the consistency of weak tea.
There is only continuity, but by no means sense, to be found in the re-appearance of Sabina’s grandfather’s bowler hat, of Tereza’s birthmark and other such oddities.
Kundera’s mistake is that he constantly interjects, supplying his own views/ telling the reader what to think, instead of merely showing us through the characters’ actions. A book that steadily narrates, with very little dialogue, it’s hard enough to follow in the first place.
Or perhaps Kundera meant for his characters to be only secondary to his own philosophical views? To his reactions to Nietzsche and Kafka and Freud? But then, why parade it as a ‘novel’?
Kundera uses these 300 odd pages to muse on questions of the nature of love, of life under oppressive rule and of excrement. Yes. And while some writers might be able to do this successfully, he doesn’t. Man is a cow parasite, he tells us, (though he’s probably talking about a certain percent of humanity only) and goes on to say that attitude towards animals is a fundamental moral test of Man. We’ve failed. If this sort of pretentious muck is your bag, then by all means pick this book up.
I’m just glad I borrowed it from someone.