You Can't Step Twice In The Same Custard
11 March 2009
Currently reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, translated by Michael Henry Heim. The reviewer from Newsweek stated that Kundera has raised the novel of ideas to a new level of dreamlike lyricism and emotional intensity.
The clue to The Unbearable Lightness of Being is in that line from Newsweek. A novel of ideas. This means that nothing happens. Which needn't necessarily be a bad thing, of course.
Here's a line from page 98:
For Franz music was the art that comes closest to Dionysian beauty in the sense of intoxication.
(Dionysia, for anyone who doesn't know, being dramatic and orgiastic festivals in honour of Dionysios, god of wine.) I can't help thinking that I would have written that line as:
Franz liked music.
On the other hand, I might have written For Franz music was the art that comes closest to Dionysian beauty in the sense of intoxication, but then I would have been joking. It's all in the intent.
I read this kind of book and think, I could write that, but then when it came to it, could I actually write a line such as The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina's life without thinking, hang on a second, Chief, you're from the west of Scotland, and that is a load of pretentious bumph?
As an illustration of this point, I was glad to see that Milan, like me, had used Heraclitus' line You can't step twice into the same river. I used it to illustrate a character talking a complete load of pretentious bumph, hopefully in a humorous way. Milan uses it in prose, and he means it. If I wanted to express the notion of things never being the same when you return to them, I'd probably state that it was like Jim Baxter going back to the Rangers or Ian Rush to Liverpool.
I have an idea for a novel of ideas where nothing happens. It's called A Room With No Natural Light. My two main protagonists are not going to talk to each other for the entire book. They're just going to have emotions and stuff. I might never write it, or I might get to the end of Kundera and be inspired.
I just have the feeling that a few chapters in, I'm going to start to get twitchy and before I know it, I'll be putting in popular football references and someone will have been brutally murdered.