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SLOWNESS by Milan Kundera


by Milan Kundera

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-017369-6
Publisher: HarperCollins

Elegantly fashioned and almost forbiddingly urbane new novel, written in French, by the renowned Czech author of such ironical and sophisticated fictions as The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1980) and The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984). Kundera is nothing if not a theoretical writer, and he is here concerned with the contrast between older and newer ways of thinking and feeling—specifically with the now devalued ideal of hedonism in a culture whose embrace of ``speed'' as the measure of all things denies us the possibility of having experiences at leisure and recollecting them in tranquility (or, as his unnamed narrator complains, ``Why has the pleasure of slowness disappeared?''). The idea is explored in two contrasting stories, each of which is embellished by discursive commentary. One, set in 18th-century France, and bearing acknowledged resemblances to Pierre Cholderos de Laclos's classic Les Liaisons dangereuses, recounts the amorous education given a delighted young nobleman by his relaxed, worldly-wise mistress. The other, set in the same locale (then a ``country chateau,'' now a hotel), describes the comical interactions of a group of intellectuals gathered for an entomological conference and variously involved with one another. Memorable participants include a would-be libertine whose bad habit of thinking prevents him from having sex, a woman filmmaker whose romantic unhappiness locks her into two mutually abusive relationships, and a Czech scientist whose pride in his dissident political status takes the curious ancillary form of a very nearly neurotic worship of the body. They're all riddled with a self- defeating tendency to second-guess their own spontaneous impulses- -unhappy avatars of this bleakly monitory novel's declaration that ``When things happen too fast nobody can be certain about anything . . . not even about himself.'' Dependably inventive and amusing, especially in its delicious sensitivity to the convolutions of contemporary self-consciousness, the novel is nevertheless overly argumentative and ever so slightly preening, brief as it is. Not vintage Kundera. (First printing of 100,000; $100,000 ad/promo)