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IDENTITY by Milan Kundera

IDENTITY

By Milan Kundera

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-06-017564-8
Publisher: HarperCollins

Further evidence of the decline into stentorian self-parody of the Czech virtuoso who once (ages ago, it now seems) produced such wonders as Laughable Loves (1974) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). It’s a portrait of the relationship between Chantal, who has suffered the death of her young son and left her dull-witted husband, and her younger lover Jean-Marc. The “story” is the progress of their increasing self-consciousness and unease with each other, fuelled by continuing echoes of separation and death (in a TV program Chantal overhears, in Jean-Marc’s hospital visit to a dying friend), meandering thoughts on the subjects of boredom and our imperfect ability to know others, and especially a series of anonymous letters Chantal receives from an unknown admirer. His identity is soon revealed (and, in any case, isn’t much of a secret) to us, though not to Chantal, who nevertheless becomes persuaded “that she has been living locked away by love, as Jean-Marc realizes “that his deepest vocation is to be a marginal person” excluded from the totality of his mistress’s life and relationships. At the close, an unidentified “septuagenarian” (perhaps our author?) recalls Chantal to “Life!,— and the story collapses in self-reflexive contortions as we’re informed that all we’ve read is “treacherous fantasy—. The worst feature—and it is by no means the only flaw—of this diaphanous rÇcit is that its characters’ overwrought introversion justifies their creator’s indulgence in the tedious discursive commentary of which he has grown increasingly fond. Kundera seems to think he’s Arthur Schnitzler or Casanova. Others may think he’s Sidney Sheldon with a postgraduate degree in comp lit. If we give him the Nobel Prize, perhaps he’ll subdue his mandarin ego and go back to writing novels. Anyway, isn’t it pretty to think so?