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An Unbearable Likeness to a Novel

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I’m two-thirds of the way through Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being and half sure I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s about. What we have here is a book (not novel, mind you) that is divided into three parts: one-third story, one-third analysis of that story, and one-third “the world according to me, the narrator.” Of course these three parts are all interwoven to produce a solid chunk of literary peculiarity.

One of the issues I have with Dostoyevsky is that he makes it entirely too easy to predict what will happen next by giving the reader all the necessary clues. Kundera does the exact opposite. I can never, ever predict what the characters will say or do next, and they do things completely outside the scope of what I would have imagined them to do. One minute, the main character is a doctor. The next, he’s a window washer, capitalizing on numerous opportunities to engage in passionate extracurricular activities with housewives. Though the capitalizing he does is not surprising, his career move is very much so.

Afterwards, the narrator, following the model I explain above, dissects the main character’s actions. I expect him to eventually give a “the way I see it…” kind of shpiel. I find this structure amusing, though, at times, I just want the narrator to get on with the story. But since there’s only one-third left, I wonder how much more unpredictability he can fit into the book…

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  • Michelle

    I read it when I was 12 or 13. I didn’t understand a word of it, but I loved the book nonetheless!

  • Rodney Welch

    That is a great novel — and it is a novel, by the way. It’s not a true story, so it’s a novel.

  • Taloran

    I read it many years ago and loved it, but I have no recollection of the plot.

  • Rodney Welch

    It’s about a philandering doctor, his wife, his lover, and his lover’s lover around or during the time of the Prague Spring in 1968, which the Soviets of course crushed, and which bears considerably upon the book’s title, as life in the course of the novel veers from being slight and meaningless to being heavy and oppressive.

  • Mark Saleski

    man, i hated it when the dog died.

  • Rodney Welch

    Yep. Karenin. One of the most heartbreaking passages I know of describing the death of a loved pet.

  • Mark Saleski

    it was horrifying enough…and then she has to go and tell the dog about how there’ll be cows to chase in heaven…

    gees, i’m gettin’ choked up…

  • Rodney Welch

    I once barely paraphrased it to a friend and she teared up just from hearing me. Milan Kundera is the opposite of a sentimental novelist, and that is not a sentimental scene; just an emotional one that anyone who has ever loved a dog can easily relate to.

  • Particleman

    Geez folks, i hadn’t gotten to that part yet. Well, i figured somebody had to die. Might as well be the dog…

  • Rodney Welch

    If only it were JUST the dog who died…by the way, the Philip Kaufman film is quite a good adaptation.

  • Mark Saleski

    no…wait….maybe i was talkin’ about Old Yeller.

    yea…that’ it.

  • Eric Olsen

    no, that’s Bambi