“And yet I prefer a world where everyone would apologize, with no exception, pointlessly, excessively, for nothing at all, where they’d load themselves down with apologies.”
Milan Kundera is an author that I didn’t know until less than two months ago. A good friend and I were walking through the book store when he suddenly saw the book and enthusiastically gave it to me, claiming it was an excellent novel.
The novel follows Alain, Caliban, Charles, D’Ardelo, Quaquelique and Ramon, as they navigate life during the days before and after a party. Each one has his problems, his motivations, and his ideas about life: Alain is still burdened by the fact that his mother left him; D’Ardelo has just found out that he doesn’t have cancer, but still lies about it; Ramon is a retired intellectual; Quaquelique is an old man who still looks for love and sex; Charles must plan the party, and Caliban pretends to be a Pakistani waiter and, without saying a single word, communicates with a Portuguese waitress for an entire afternoon.
“We’ve known for a long time that it was no longer possible to overturn this world, nor reshape it, nor head off its dangerous headlong rush. There’s been only one possible resistance: to not take it seriously.”
The novel has had a mixed reception. There are those who say that the lack of story, the messy situations and the confusing so-called plot are a clear indicator that age has finally caught up with the author and that the 85-year old Kundera has written it for the sake of writing. There are those who say that this novel is the fulfillment of the authors aesthetic dream and that his conclusion that the essence of life lies in its insignificance is a clear display of his genius.
If you ask me, this is a short and entertaining story about a group of old men whose thoughts aren’t too different from those of a real-life old man. Many of us know what it’s like to have a distant, ridiculous old uncle who spends his days thinking about the sex he can’t have anymore. We probably know someone who has pretended to be more sick than he actually is, just to get more attention and sympathy from others. We’ve all probably sat and thought about the reality of our current social situation and tried to figure out how it came to be. If there’s something I like about a book is its capacity to imitate life’s weave of absurdity and seriousness.
Thus, in a novel full of humor and absurd situations, while playing with time and dialogue, Kundera explores themes that we can discuss for hours without saying really anything.
“Casting light on the most serious problems and at the same time saying not one serious sentence; being fascinated by the reality of the contemporary world and at the same time completely avoiding realism”, reads the book’s description.
Whatever his reason for this book, Kundera leaves a clear message: the key is insignificance itself.
“Insignificance, my friend, is the essence of existence. It is all around us, and everywhere and always. It is present even when no one wants to see it: in horror, in bloody battles, in the worst disasters. Breathe, my friend, inhale this insignificance that’s all around us, it is the key to wisdom, it is the key to a good mood.”