Summer reading;Books

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING. By Milan Kundera. Faber pound;4.99

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This week we look at Milan Kundera's modern classic.

In occupied Prague, 1968, one way to cure the misery of the soul is to treat the body to commitment-free hedonism - but does it work? Kundera's novel, first published in 1984, was the most popular fiction choice on our Summer Reading list.

THE READERS Angie Whitworth is a learning support teacher at Grange School, Oldham, Lancashire Sarah Bischoff is a learning support co-ordinator in Wiltshire Sue Dixon is a literacy consultant in Northampton Brenda Child is an educational researcher in Bristol Alison Feist is head of English at a comprehensive in Essex Mary Scully teaches English and languages at More House school, Farnham, Surrey AW. Don't be put off by the mention of Nietzsche and Parmenides in the first few pages. In two minutes, the narrator will pick you up on an incoming wave and deposit you firmly inside someone else's life, returning subsequently to review the action. Give the mind a philosophical workout before September.

SB. "The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one," is a somewhat daunting first phrase if you are looking for a light read.

But Kundera goes on to develop his characters and to put in place various sets of circumstances, the outcomes of which are inevitable, convincing and ultimately sad. The narrative mode is constantly shifting, giving changes of gear and making the journey through this book compelling reading. If you want to think, feel, laugh and even gain a deeper insight into your own life, it is well worth the journey.

SD. This novel evokes a disturbing sort of pleasure. I felt forced to be a truly active participant; my long-held moral codes and philosophies were subverted, questioned and took time to properly re-align. Complex characters and their strange "motifs" (a bowler hat, for example), left me considering huge questions of powerpowerlessness, society's morals and whether individual realities ever really coincide, even in the deepest of relationships. It was unnerving, unsettling, but tantalisingly intimate.

BC. This is a thoughtful, philosophical novel, but does not make for a comfortable read. It is, says the author, "an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become". The literal eye of the book's cover represents this central theme, one in which the characters, in need of varying degrees of public and private attention, explore ways of living and loving. Kundera's world is powerful and surrealistic. In it, he approaches literature as a paradox which reflects and questions life.

AF. I wouldn't describe this book as a light read, but it is well worth the effort. The philosophical views of Nietzsche provide the focus for the main characters, who try to escape the mundane world in which they live. Personal relationships are based on sexual pleasure and have no emotional commitment. This freedom or "lightness" is in stark contrast to the lack of control or freedom that existed within the political turmoil of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s.

MS. It made me think. The characters, although not fleshed out as much as you might expect, provide a framework for the narrator's philosophising. I welcomed reading how each of the characters thought or acted or imagined they would act in a given situation. The book is like a hall of mirrors with each character reflecting what the other thinks - or thinks that they think. As in a real hall of mirrors, this sometimes gets distorted.

Next week's read: 'The Giant, O'Brien' by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate pound;6.99)

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