This is the third – and definitely final – novel by Milan Kundera that I shall be reading.
Given that he is so famous and his writings so admired, I really felt I shouldn’t write him off after reading ‘Slowness’ which I found rather insipid. ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ is, I’ll admit, considerably better but quite honestly I think that’s the book to read and leave it at that. ‘Life is Elsewhere’ should be renamed ‘Time Better Spent Elsewhere’.
There was simply nothing of merit to the book. The plot, which focuses on a pathetic Czech poet, Jaromil, contained no endearing characters – least of all the poet himself – and if it was trying to make some kind of philosophical point it was lost on me. I cringed at the semi-incestuous relationship between Jaromil and his mother and often felt the urge to give them both a damned good slap. If ever there were characters who deserved everything that happens to them, it is these two.
I felt most sympathy for the poor girls who come under Jaromil’s spell (God knows why they would) but even then the characters were two-dimensional and lacked any kind of interest and I barely cared whether they lived or died. Jaromil is, from beginning to end, spoilt, petty, selfish and vain. He epitomises the worst in humanity and has nothing of the best. At least Kundera managed some vaguely interesting characters and philosophical ideas in ‘The Unbearable Lightness’ but here he seems to have run out of anything interesting to say.
In short, if you MUST read Kundera, read ‘The Unbearable Lightness’ – I’m not sure it’s a classic but it’s as close as he gets. Save your time, effort and money and don’t bother with anything else. The author is not unlike Jaromil himself and has a somewhat over-inflated view of his own literary merit. Indeed, I was irked when, towards the end, Kundera inserts himself into the novel having never done so before and so changes the whole feel of work. Such existential narrator omniscience is fine when then novel is presented that way from the start but here it seems as if Kundera just had a ‘clever idea’ towards the end – or perhaps he forgot what kind of book he was writing? Either way, it grated on me. Nothing worse than authors who jump up and down and shout ‘look at me!’.
I guess you can say I don’t like Milan Kundera! But after trudging through three of his books, I feel justified to say I’ve given him a good go. I can live the rest of my life content to know his remaining books are, as it were, ‘elsewhere’. My advice is that you should do the same.
Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org