Saturday, February 28, 2009

Bohumil Hrabal, Too Loud a Solitude

It first came out in 1976, Bohumil Hrabal's novella Too Loud a Solitude, and while it's most poignant if regarded as a product of the Czechoslovakia of that time, it also stands as a potent, haunting bit of magical realism. The plot's so simple as barely to count, with the effect of the narrator's cycling and obsessed voice being perhaps the most important element of the book, but on the other hand, its plot offers everything that plot can ever achieve in a small space.

Maybe it's because I started reading this book in Brno, the Czech Republic; continued it in Bratislava, Slovakia; and finished it in Vienna, Austria, because atmosphere matters, certainly. But these characters are amazing: Hanta, the narrator, but also his women (the nameless gypsy girl and the unfortunate Manca) and his boss. And the themes are vast and evocative (the persistence of memory, the evanescence of text, the failures of desire, the implacability of technology/bureaucracy).

I'm overwhelmed by memories of this book. It was so much more than the wee volume I thought it would be that I'm ill-equipped to summarize it enticingly enough here. A man who's spent 35 years crushing wastepaper for the State, and who in the process has lost more of himself and the world than he can ever appreciate, finds his job and his ontology threatened by technological change? I could do a better job than this, but maybe you wouldn't go and read it then. If I'd known the plot ahead of time, I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much, so though I could summarize it more successfully than this, I'm not going to!

Special bonus: you can watch a teaser of an animated version featuring Paul Giamatti as the voice of the narrator, if you're interested, but it doesn't give you much of a sense of what the book's about....

February books

A long and complicated month, frankly, one in which the book purchases can barely be tracked, let alone itemized:
  • Feb 1, Bolen's: Vancouver Matters, ed. James Eidse et al. ($21.95)
  • Feb. 11, some chain bookstore in Brno, Czech Republic: Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (277 Czech crowns, or about $14.50)
  • Feb. 21, HDS Retail in the Frankfurt airport: The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland (10.80 Euros, or about $17.30)
  • Feb. 21, HDS Retail in the Frankfurt airport: The Significance of the Frontier in American History by Frederick Jackson Turner (9.10 Euros, or about $14.60, one of those very stylish little volumes in the Penguin Books / Great Ideas series), and
  • Feb. 21, Watermark in the Toronto airport: Saudade: The Possibilities of Place, by Anik See ($18.95).