The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Neitzche 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!
—The opening sentence of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being
I am 121 pages into The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and I can tell I’m supposed to like it. I sit in cafes with other artists, for crying out loud. And I like the history, I like the cultural education, I like the interplay of ideas, I like that he translated his own books from Czech to French…He’s got a fabulous, clear, simple voice that’s strongly intellectual—and his intellectualism might turn some readers off, which is too bad; peeps oughtta think. Heck, there’s even a dog and a bowler hat.
I ought to like him. But the trouble is, I can’t stand the main characters. And that is perhaps the key to me, rather than the key to Kundera: I enjoy novels when I enjoy the people they’re about.
Like Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice. I think she’s funny and sparky and pretty strong, considering the social pressures brought to bear on young women of her class and time. Her flaws are endearing, and deeply understandable. What person gets out of high school without completely misreading the characters of two potential lovers? How many of us are lucky enough to get off as easily as Elizabeth does? I think most of my friends ended up sleeping with Wickham. Some got to run into Darcy at a reunion later and get a second chance.
Or Ged, from the Earthsea series. He starts off as a young idiot and becomes an extraordinary mage—and then an extraordinary man, after he gives up his powers to repair the world. He’s not nearly as funny as Eliza but then again she can’t call a hawk to her wrist with a word either.
Kundera’s main characters don’t make me laugh. Plus they ought to tug at my heartstrings but they don’t. They annoy the crap out of me, in fact. I find myself judging them harshly, rather than feeling compassion, and then…I find myself feeling guilty for being driven nuts by these people that make themselves so miserable.
Yep. Guilt over fiction. Welcome to my brain.
Also, I want to tell them all about polyamory, which, while it doesn’t work for everyone, would be a great help in this situation.
All in all I just want to sit Tomas, Tereza, Sabina and Franz down in the front room of an imaginary apartment in Prague or Geneva and have a talk with them. “People. You need to lighten up. You’re all eating OK, you have roofs over your heads, you’re all beautiful and healthy and you need to get right up close to the fact that life is short and you should only spend a certain amount of time wondering whether it matters at all or not before going out and enjoying the heck out of it. ARGH!!”
I will try to finish this book. But I’m not sure I can. Because life is short, whether it matters or not, and spring is coming here in Wisconsin. I suppose I could read it outside in the sunshine.
What are you reading? What do you think of it? Do you think I’m completely wrong about this novel?