Fiction & Biography


Milan Kundera’s reputation in western Europe is largely contingent on the period after he exiled himself from his native Czechoslovakia in the 705. 1978’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and 1982’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being are his best known and most admired books, though his earlier political metaphors, such as The Joke are sometimes also praised.

But he’s always had his detractors, those who have caustically referred to The Unbearable Load of Old Bollocks and The Book of Laughter and er, Thingy, and this camp seems to grow with each of his later novels.

Part of his success with western readers is surely to do with the implied criticisms of the Eastern Bloc which manifest themselves in his work, though Kundera himself professes to be only incidentally interested in such matters, claiming more interest in issues of identity, sexuality and existential selfhood. The problem is, with the Eastern Bloc gone, we’re now left with this essence, and might wonder at its worth.

Kundera seems freer to explore these issues in his later work, but much of it falls back on a prurient, fetishising attitude to sexuality. This was most discernible in his last novel, Identity, a kind of stalker’s charter, where a man writes rather intrusive secret ‘admirer letters’ to his lover, and it sexes her up no end. That this objectification eventually damages their relationship is a too little, too late message.

Ignorance isn’t quite as seedy in tone as the earlier work, but falls back on his old political relationship with the no-longer—tyrannical country of his origins.

In it, a middle-aged woman, Irena, is urged by a friend to return to Prague after a 20-year exile. She does so and, on the way, meets another returning exile, Joseph, a widower with whom she once had a tenuous and very brief erotic relationship. Irena feels neglected by her second husband, whose main focus of attention is her vivacious mother.

A relationship is on the cards, but Kundera runs it through the filter of exile, comparing the everyday

who followed Maureen O'Connell in the Garnet/rill trilogy that made Mrna's name.

This stand-alone work takes on the form of an extended diary. cornprled by one lachlan Harriot whose wrfe Susie. a forensic psychiatrist, has been conVicted of the murder of a serial killer named Andrew Gow whom she was working on. wrth at the time. Lachlan is adamant that his wrfe is innocent but her peculiar behavrour and illogical actions give Lachlan cause to doubt everyone. including himself.

Lachlan sits evening after evening reminiscing about happier times in his life Willi Susie. while undertaking the painful task of sifting through her study trying to uncover anything that might help her appeal case. Moyrng from delusional to confused to suspicious to paranoid as he amasses more and more details about the case. Susie's actions and involvement seem all the more per‘plexrng to Lachlan.

Taken from such an angle. this kind

CRIME DENISE MINA Sanctum I'Bantarrii 00.

Already lauded by her crime writing peers as a huge talent. Glaswegian Mina has thrown a curyeball to those

110 THE LIST Tit ()“Z'. ‘3. No; INK)?

A sadly detached and unemotional read

reunion of Irena and her old country to Homer’s Odyssey. Both Irena and Joseph must confront their own self- deceptions, and the burying of distasteful facts about their pasts as they return.

Kundera certainly spins an elegant narrative, which is redolent with ironies, all of which rebound upon his austere protagonists. The fact, though, that it is hard to invest in either of the central characters makes it a detached and unemotional read. (Steve Cramer)

of defective story is given extra twists as Lachlan, blinded by his loyalty for Susie not only his wrfe but a mother to their daughter Margey ~ tries to comprehend Susie's level of involvement and deceit.

The notion of a diary here is a dec:dediy loose one. In an attempt to make this pol boil as furiously as possible. Mina makes Lachlan's diary entries explicit. expansive and conversational in tone. similar to a traditional first person narrative. Had she fully explored her intended method of narrative exposition. Sanctum would have been a more intriguing and complex but also a more convoluted book than it is.

Even if the proposed structure is flimsy. Mina steadin builds a house of cards obvrously destined to collapse around the hapless, Iuckless Lachlan. Ihe actual resolution isn't immediater obvrous and ends up feeling a little absurd. the feeling is that this would have worked more successfully had more been left to the imagination. (Mark Robertsoni

Shelf life

Classic novels revisited. This issue: The Color Purple

Published 90 years ago What’s the story Alice Walker's celebrated novel is the story of Celie. a black woman in America's south. told through letters to ()od and her sister Nettie. a missionary in Africa. (Zelie is raped aged 14 by her stepfather and the two resulting children are taken from her and sold. ()elre is forced to marry an older farmer. Albert referred to as ‘Mi' ' who beats and p;ib.icly humiliates her. But she gains inspiration from Mr '5; tough daughterin law Sophia. and Shug Avery. a glamorous. independent singer, whose love and guidance (ll!\.’(‘; ()eiie to leave her oppressive husband. Ihe book ends with Celie being reunited with her sister.

What the critics said NOL‘.’ York li/nes r'e\.'ee\'.'er Mel Watkzns praised it as 'a striking and consumniater well written novel.

Key moment Ihe turning point for ()elre comes when she and Shug talk about (Sod. and ()elie realises she has never taken any joy ll'()ll‘ the world: 'Not a blade of corn how it do thati; not the color purple Ina/here it come fr‘orn’fl: not the little ‘.‘./||(l'l|()\.'.’()li$. Nothing.’

Postcript Alice \I‘Jalker once told an inleiyre\.'.«'er: 'lne back woman is one of Arrterrca‘s greatest heroes. but sure has been oppressed beyond recognitzortf ller statement touched nerves (}\.’(}l’\,"‘.‘.’lION}. as the book became an international best seller. bagged a l’ulit/e'. and ‘.'.as watered down for m (l(1l(‘- Arnercan (i()7lf;;lll’l)lt()l‘ Steyen Spielberg.

First line test ‘Yoi. better not never tell Il()t)()(l'\, but (‘iodf rAIliir‘. Radcliffe,