Synopses & Reviews
"A magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world," writes Milan Kundera in The Curtain
, his fascinating new book on the art of the novel. "Cervantes sent Don Quixote journeying and tore through the curtain. The world opened before the knight-errant in all the comical nakedness of its prose." For Kundera, that curtain represents a ready-made perception of the world that each of us has a pre-interpreted world. The job of the novelist, he argues, is to rip through the curtain and reveal what it hides.
In this entertaining and always stimulating essay, Kundera cleverly sketches out his personal view of the history and value of the novel in Western civilization. Too often, he suggests, a novel is thought about only within the confines of the language and nation of its origin, when in fact the novel's development has always occurred across borders: Laurence Sterne learned from Rabelais, Henry Fielding from Cervantes, Joyce from Flaubert, García Márquez from Kafka. The real work of a novel is not bound up in the specifics of any one language: what makes a novel matter is its ability to reveal some previously unknown aspect of our existence. In The Curtain, Kundera skillfully describes how the best novels do just that.
"It's not often that a work comes along that so perfectly distills an approach to art that it realigns the way an art form is understood. Susan Sontag's revolutionary work On Photography was one such piece. Kundera's new book-length essay should be another. The renowned Franco-Czech author (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting) investigates the history of the novel, beginning with the moment in which Cervantes denied Don Quixote's desire for elevation to knight-errant and instead 'cast a legendary figure down: into the world of prose.' In the prosaic world, according to Kundera, the absence of pathos, the insistence on the comedic and the interrelation of all novels represent the locus of meaning and emotional impact. Kundera argues against the tendency to classify and study literature through the lens of nationality. Instead, he proposes a world literature that would take into account the way novelists learn from one another, Sterne from Rabelais, Fielding from Cervantes, Joyce from Flaubert and, though he never explicitly states it, Kundera from them all. This is a self-consciously personal vision of 'the poetics of the novel,' one that displays Kundera's own preoccupations, from his Central European dislike of sentimental kitsch to his exhortation that, to be counted in the history of the novel, all novelists must follow Cervantes, must '[tear] the curtain of preinterpretation' into which we are all born. Only then can the novel accomplish its purpose: to show its readers their own lives." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Kundera] is one of the most erudite novelists on the planet. Not since Henry James, perhaps, has a fiction writer examined the process of writing with such insight, authority and range of reference and allusion." New York Times
"The immediacy of Kundera's evocative prose and the rich tapestry he weaves compel us to pick up and read, or reread, the bountiful literary treasures of Western literature. This could be a book from which to draw a summer reading list." Library Journal
"On bright display are Kundera's vast reading, his passion for his art and his disdain for the ordinary." Kirkus Reviews
"The Curtain is not one of Kundera's best books, but to readers for whom he has provided a crucial piece of the literary puzzle, it cannot be missed." Los Angeles Times
"[Kundera] argues brilliantly that this art form is the only tool we have to discover existential truths hidden by the high fly of philosophy or the self-delusions of lyric poetry." San Francisco Chronicle
"Written in aphoristic style, The Curtain is agreeably studded with insights that may have been overlooked even by veteran readers of the novel." Wall Street Journal
Traces the author's personal view of the history and significance of the novel in western civilization, arguing that a novel's development crosses international and language boundaries while serving to reveal previously unknown aspects of a reader's existence. By the author of The Art of the Novel. 35,000 first printing.
In this entertaining and stimulating essay, Kundera deftly sketches out his personal view of the history and value of the novel in Western civilization.
About the Author
The Franco-Czech novelist Milan Kundera was born in Brno and has lived in France, his second homeland, since 1975. He is the author of the novels The Joke, Life Is Elsewhere, Farewell Waltz, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Immortality, and the short-story collection Laughable Loves all originally in Czech. His most recent novels, Slowness, Identity, and Ignorance, as well as his nonfiction works The Art of the Novel and Testaments Betrayed, were originally written in French.