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11 Jan 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
Worth: 3/5
Enjoyed: 2/5

This is a fiction story that wraps itself around the philosophical ideas of the author. Kuranda's prose is witty and deceptively conversational, and his ideas and observations are, on a few occasions, captivating. Despite the onus on philosophy, it's actually a fairly light read.

However, these good points began to weigh heavy (yes, pun) after the first quarter. The potentially exciting philosophical ponderings disintegrate, for me, into meaningless and sometimes off-putting excuses for adultery. Off-putting in that it becomes super dull, and because the wife is first annoyingly passive (rather than fascinatingly so) and then self-reproachful for not accepting her husband's love as it was! I'm all for freedom in love, but playing the numbers game on one side, and years of sadness on the other, is a big snooze.

This is first and foremost a book of ideas, so the story is secondary. Yet it is the vehicle for the ideas, and for me, are driven not over the edge, but simply stall. I could have accepted his meanderings and disconnected ideas if his prose was lyrical, poetic, which, while good, isn't either.

What I don't accept are his flimsy philosophical observations. His basic premise - questioning whether lightness is preferable to heaviness, or whether heaviness is a bad thing - is a worthwhile one. Yet the explanations are assumptions backed up by, more often than not, grammatical rather than conceptual links. Just using 'therefore' doesn't a legitimate point make.

I think that I would have enjoyed this in my early 20's, when I was particularly open to being pushed philosophically, legitimate or not, and everything seemed amazing because of it's new opportunity to push. There was no pushing now, and the gentle nudges were easy to forget.

I gave it 3 stars for worth because it does have it's place, mostly for stylistic and cultural reasons, and partly because it's so well known, so it's worth discovering what it's all about, if you have that much extra time. I didn't hate it, but I would have preferred having had spent my time chewing on a different book.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed the film much more than the book. Great to see Binoche and Olin together. Their roles are reversed in the less-substanial Chocolat.