The Curtain - An Essay In Seven Parts By Milan Kundera

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The Curtain - An Essay In Seven Parts by Milan Kundera

The Curtain - An Essay In Seven Parts by Milan Kundera


"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.

That Milan Kundera's latest book, The Curtain - An essay in seven parts, is a work of literary theory rather than a novel should not dissapoint his large reading public. Kundera, after all, is a novelist who has always been remarkably interested in the structure and form of the novel as a literary genre, using literary criticism and anaylsis as the building blocks for his narratives. Just four short chapters into perhaps his best known novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tereza appears carrying Tolstoy's Anna Karenina under her arm, and Kundera's characters find themselves meditating on their relationships, along with the omniscient narrator, through the prism of Tolstoy's novel.

Before we delve further, it's important to point out two things about The Curtain. First, this is as enjoyable and thought-provoking a book as any of Kundera's novels. Enthusiasm and intelligence are on hand in equal measure as Kundera takes us through weighty topics like "the Consciousness of Continuity", "The Ethic of the Essential", and "The Torn Curtain of the Tragic". As with his novels, his own voice bursts in, more often than not with an exclamation, as he excitedly passes an idea on to you, the reader. For example, talking about biographical speculation as to the inspiration behind Proust's Albertine, "But what are they talking about! No matter who inspired her, man or woman, Albertine is Albertine, and that's that! A novel is the product of an alchemy that turns a woman into a man, a man into a woman, sludge into gold, an anecdote into drama! That divine alchemy is what makes for the power of every novelist, the secret, the splendor of his ...
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