The downside of starting my postgraduate degree next week is that I will have a lot less time to read fiction and also a lot less time for blogging than I’ve had over the summer. The upside is that I now have access to different libraries and a 10% student discount at my favourite bookshop in the world, Foyles, so when I do have time to read for pleasure, I will be pretty spoilt for choice.
Last week, I visited the main university library for the first time and got hopelessly lost. Due to the absence of signs and being completely unfamiliar with the Library of Congress classification system, it took me nearly an hour to even find the sections relevant to my course. During my search, I happened to stumble across the Czech literature section and picked up a copy of ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ by Milan Kundera as it was on my TBR list and isn’t available at my local library. I figured that even if I never found the books I had actually gone to look for, it wouldn’t have been a totally wasted trip.
‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ doesn’t really have a plot as such. I can’t really describe what happens in it other than that it is a meandering collection of philosophical observations set during the Prague Spring in 1968 and its aftermath. It’s actually more appealing and less dry than it might sound. There are four main characters: brain surgeon Tomas, his wife Tereza, his lover Sabina and her other lover, Franz. Oh, and a dog called Karenin. As expected with a densely written book rooted in philosophical ideas, I don’t think I understood a lot of what Kundera was trying to convey but I would be prepared to re-read it sometime in the future in the hope of uncovering a few more of the complex layers in the story.
I’m generally not a fan of post-modern literature and I did wonder what I was letting myself in for when I read the first sentence:
“The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzsche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it, and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum!”.
But although the book seemed almost impenetrable at the beginning, it isn’t totally incomprehensible, in spite of the non-linear plot and thinly sketched characters. Admittedly, ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ is quite pretentious and I can see that it isn’t a book for everyone. But I think it is a readable sort of pretentiousness in that it is at least quite uplifting in some of the more comic parts. You will either love this book or hate it. You will also never look at a bowler hat in the same way again.