John Banville revisits Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. “Returning after 20 years to what is acknowledged as a modern classic, I was struck by how little I remembered. As I began re-reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera’s novel of love and politics in communist-run Czechoslovakia between 1968 and the early 1980s, I realised that, true to its title, the book had floated out of my mind like a hot-air balloon come adrift from its tethers. I managed to retrieve a few fragments – the naked woman in the bowler hat whom we all remember, the death of a pet dog, a lavatory seat compared to a white water lily rising out of the bathroom floor, and the fact that Nietzsche’s name appears in the first line on the first page – but of the characters I retained nothing at all, not even their names.”

The Babu is no Banville, but we do have this in common: a tendency to forget, sometimes to our own surprise, a work that should have been indelibly imprinted on memory. This trait made my definition of a classic gloriously simple, though: a classic was a book that I was tempted to return to, only to discover how much more there was in the book that had not been retained in my memory. It was a different version of that first fine careless rapture, a recovery of experience with more intensity involved the second time around. Books that fell short of classic status did exactly the opposite: I returned to them in great expectation only to be disappointed by the absence of memorable detail, the lack of characters whom I might greet with the affection you reserve for old friends who have dropped out of sight.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: