The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

milan-kundera-the-book-of-laughter-and-forgettingI stumbled on this book exiting a train station. I was walking past a small bookstore texting and not paying attention, when I almost got hit by it, literally got hit by it in the face, it standing on the bookstand outside. The book of laughter and forgetting! How funny. And how convenient, a book I always wanted to buy but forgot, came to me like that. So long since I last read Kundera and I was eager to start it off.

In this early novel (written in the ’70s) many of the author’s patterns are there, patterns that made him famous and patterns that I enjoy; simple people or trivial gestures/phrases which otherwise would go unnoticed by anyone trigger whole stories, foreign language words (litost) are obsessively defined-meanified, there are stories where reality and dream blend(and you realise that only towards the end), poets and historical figures come to life and discuss things you would never expect, classical music, history, philosophy, life, death, sex, all are here. Even the author himself appears into the book as he often uses to. This is a typical Kundera book and typically I would be amazed.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t really get into the flow with it. I don’t know why but I couldn’t follow the narrative style as enjoyably as I used to with his other books. I got a sense maybe there were too many of his patterns in this novel (or not given the proper space to develop?) which distracted me and made me compare it; “Goethe”s talking reminded me of the unforgettable long Goethe parts (chapters?) in his “Immortality” book, the scene with the hat falling in the grave reminded me of the pages and pages of elaboration on a hat’s meaning in his “Unbearable Lightness of Being”… Even Lermontov kept reminding me of something (and yes the poet also appears -and more vividly- in “Life is Elsewhere”). But more importantly I didn’t get a sense of unity from the stories. Even though the themes were similar there was not the usual intermixing when everything, stories and people, connect somehow with each other (usually towards the end).

Don’t get me wrong, it was very pleasant to read and I would recommend it. Maybe even a new reader will find it more interesting, more dense, compared to other Kundera’s novels that may seem too floating or too overanalytical at times. I enjoyed it, and if it wasn’t for my high expectations and anticipation to read it I could (should!) probably rate it higher.

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