Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Unbearable Lightness?

We all have a handful of unread books that sit in the far corners of our minds simply waiting to be read. Books that beg to be read. Books that hit our consciousness from time to time, when we hear the book mentioned in conversation, or see someone reading the book on the subway. And in those moments, we think again "I have to read that book."

One such book for me was The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by the Czech writer Milan Kundera. I vaguely remember that the first time I learned of this book was on a train the north of Spain. That title alone grabbed me from the outset. It's perhaps one of the best titles I have ever stumbled across: The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
Unfortunately though, for me the novel didn't stand up to the ecstasy of the title. I was disappointed. The plot was endlessly circular (Tomas sleeps with Woman A, then Woman B, but feeling bad, returns to Woman A, but then is drawn again to Woman B . . . and then repeat a dozen times). And the writing was too sparse, and not 'sparse' in an artistic way, but sparse in a very non-interesting way. Supposedly, the book is rife with philosophical themes, but against the backdrop of uninteresting writing and an even more uninteresting plot, the themes fell by the wayside.

So here is the tragedy of the situation: I looked forward for well over 5 years to finally reading this book. Whenever I heard it mentioned, I'd think "yes, that has to be a solid novel." My forbearance would pay off when I could finally dive deep into the text. But you know how the story ends. The book didn't do anything for me.

It's like telling a child that you'll take him to Disneyland next year, and he savors it for 12 solid months, he imagines what it will be like, he ponders the adventures he'll have, the storybook food he'll eat, and the magic day he'll have. And then the day arrives, and the lines are long and the weather is hot and humid and Disneyland is crowded as hell.

Does this ever happen to anyone else? Or am I alone in my misery?


  1. Journey to the East, by Hermann Hesse. I went in expecting Asian adventure, and was sorely disappointed.

    The book touches very briefly on some journey that never seems to get any farther than a mountain gorge in Switzerland, and the rest of the tale recounts how the narrator just can’t seem to put into words the heady days he’d spent on that ill-fated pilgrimage. I won’t spoil the book by revealing the ending, but it’s got exactly nothing to do with a Journey to the East.

    Maybe that’s more in the vein of false advertising than what you’re describing, but it seems to fit.

  2. 'The Moviegoer' by Walker Percy. The people who recommended it to me were so very enthusiastic, I really looked forward to reading it—plus, it's supposed to be about existentialism, my favorite brand of philosophy. But when I sat down to read it, I just couldn't get into it. The writing seemed choppy, not very inspired, and the scenes were dull, even vacuous. I couldn't make my eyes stay on the page. I didn't finish it. =shrug=

    Say Tucker, you should watch the movie of 'Unbearable Lightness of Being.' I agree with you about the book, but the movie is a classic: it's erotic, moving, and a very satisfying story.