Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Books: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera

The real question here is: Why do I keep reading books by Milan Kundera? There is a real answer (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting was on my inaugural reading list years ago, but the library never had it, and so I read The Joke and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being in the meantime), but the answer doesn't address the problem of the question; I've read more than one book by quite a number of authors.

The problem is that all of Kundera's books are the same. There are some Czech people, mostly middle aged, who are intellectual, but are forced to perform menial labor because of the oppressive Soviet communist occupation. The man argues with his wife because she doesn't understand his need to have hundreds (literally!) of mistresses. The wife engages in semi-lesbianic behavior with one of his mistresses in hopes of getting on equal sexual footing.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting has a few other bits that could set it apart, if they weren't written in that same (obnoxious) pseudo-sexual/pseudo-parable tone (there's an attractive, sad woman who finds herself living on an island inhabited only by children, who at first ignore her sexuality, then delight in it, then attack her for it, until she swims out into the sea and drowns herself.)

There is an accessible pretension in Kundera that really drives me up the walls. He's so. . . smug and pseudo-everything (pseudo-political, pseudo-sensual, pseudo-philosophical, pseudo-poetic, etc.)—just enough to make the average reader think that he's been granted access to something elevated and lofty, when in fact, he's only being titillated by soft-core. And for that, keep your Kundera; give me Henry Miller any day.

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