A reviewer at Amazon wrote of this book: “This is either a book of philosophy masquerading as a novel, or a novel about the lives of four or five characters with pretensions to be a book of philosophy.” I went into reading this book knowing nothing about it but the name, which for some reason I’ve known as a phrase for a number of years (same with “through a glass darkly”). I was surprised to find that it was only about 20 years old. I had expected something from mid-century, at least.
The strength of the narrative itself is nothing to cream your pants over. Actually, the writing is extremely elementary (taken as a work of fiction): the characters are fascinating, but entirely developed by flat exposition, where Kundera tells you that Character X does this because her mom did this, or Character Y has a certain philosophy, &c. There is no semblance of narrator, because Kundera is clearly the narrative voice, and lapses into first person exposition at points.
All this leads me to believe that of the choices presented in the initial quote, this book is clearly a philosophical treatise with the trappings of fiction. It certainly is daring: it wanders all over the place, at times clearly polemicizing against the Communist presence in Kundera’s home country of Czechoslovakia, at others ruminating that man is defined by his treatment of animals. I’m telling you: it’s all over the place.
The greatest portion of the book is made up by sex, as the main characters are tied together (though not in any significant way) by an artist named Sabina, who has trysts with the two main male characters. Feminists especially may have a difficult time putting up with the characters, as the males are regretless philanderers (of an enormous scale) and their wives are all weak and helpless or devious and arrogant. What’s more, there is very little by way of their development.
But, as I said, the point of this book is not the characters, but rather Kundera’s philosophical musings about lightness and weight, drawn from the prior musings of Greek scholar Parmenides. I won’t get into any discussion of Kundera’s musings here, as you would be better off reading them yourselves, but I must admit that they didn’t quite live up to my expectations. Unbearable Lightness of Being is supposed to be a landmark work, but it strikes me as somewhat immature in style and muddled in execution. Maybe I’m just picky.