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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Book notes No. 47: Farewell Waltz, Milan Kundera

Farewell Waltz has, like far too many books, been languishing on my Amazon wish list for a long, long, long time. Its salvation from wish list oblivion had its seeds in the small French town of Salins-les-Bains, where I found myself curing in the famous salt waters at the end of August. 

Part-way through my session, I realised that I was surrounded by lady octogenarians, all bingo wings and flower-sculpture bonnets de bain, oo-ing and oh-la-laah-ing their way through an aquarobics session. And my sauna-high brain instantly connected to that immortal scene in the Hollywood version of Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being involving Juliette Binoche, Daniel Day-Lewis, and a number of women taking a fitness class beside a Communist-era spa-pool. Minus the flower-sculpture bonnets de bain.

That I should later finally choose to 1-click on Farewell Waltz was, then, inevitable. And that I should enjoy it so much that I stayed up very late, and in the morning shunned company over my cappuccino to finish it, was also inevitable.

Farewell Waltz is a dark comedy involving a small number of characters connected to a Communist-era spa some distance from Prague. Ruzena, a spa attendant, is pregnant, and has decided that a famous jazz trumpeter with whom she had a one-night stand, is to be named the father in preference to her adoring no-hoper boyfriend. Klima is the poor musician so accused, and he is married to the disastrously beautiful and equally disastrously jealous Kamilla. Dr Skreta is a spa gynaecologist famous for his miraculous cure for infertility. Jakub, whose past has seen him both government-sanctioned executioner and victim, is leaving the country for good, and is in town to say goodbye to his ward, Olga, the daughter of a friend he sent to his death. Then there is Bretlef, a rich American who is at once saint and Don Juan. 

Oh yes, and a little blue pill.

Kundera, as usual, beautifully tangles his characters into moral, social, political and emotional knots and still finds time for some trenchant social comment and a spot of jazz. 

But there is more. About one-third of the way through the book Kundera stopped me dead in my tracks with his elucidation of something we in Carmine have been wrestling with over the past couple of years - something I thought I could never hope to understand. In the passage in question, Jakub, the character who has suffered so much under Communist rule, but who has also made others suffer, is wrestling with the exact same question:

“The old men merged in his mind with prison guards, examining magistrates, and informers who spied on their neighbours to see if they talked politics while shopping. What drove such people to their sinister occupations? Spite? Certainly, but also the desire for order. Because the desire for order tries to transform the human world into an inorganic reign in which everything goes well, everything functions as a subject of an impersonal will. The desire for order is at the same time a desire for death, because life is a perpetual violation of order. Or, inversely, the desire for order is the virtuous pretext by which man's hatred for man justifies its crimes.”

And now I have it straight. 



3 comments:

Clipped Wings said...

Great review. Life is a perpetual violation of order, whether with mankind or nature.

Karin said...

Interesting review. Like the statement: "The desire for order is at the same time a desire for death, because life is a perpetual violation of order."

Caution/Lisa said...

What a wonderful review! I think I enjoyed it just about as much as I would enjoy the book :)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Book notes No. 47: Farewell Waltz, Milan Kundera

Farewell Waltz has, like far too many books, been languishing on my Amazon wish list for a long, long, long time. Its salvation from wish list oblivion had its seeds in the small French town of Salins-les-Bains, where I found myself curing in the famous salt waters at the end of August. 

Part-way through my session, I realised that I was surrounded by lady octogenarians, all bingo wings and flower-sculpture bonnets de bain, oo-ing and oh-la-laah-ing their way through an aquarobics session. And my sauna-high brain instantly connected to that immortal scene in the Hollywood version of Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being involving Juliette Binoche, Daniel Day-Lewis, and a number of women taking a fitness class beside a Communist-era spa-pool. Minus the flower-sculpture bonnets de bain.

That I should later finally choose to 1-click on Farewell Waltz was, then, inevitable. And that I should enjoy it so much that I stayed up very late, and in the morning shunned company over my cappuccino to finish it, was also inevitable.

Farewell Waltz is a dark comedy involving a small number of characters connected to a Communist-era spa some distance from Prague. Ruzena, a spa attendant, is pregnant, and has decided that a famous jazz trumpeter with whom she had a one-night stand, is to be named the father in preference to her adoring no-hoper boyfriend. Klima is the poor musician so accused, and he is married to the disastrously beautiful and equally disastrously jealous Kamilla. Dr Skreta is a spa gynaecologist famous for his miraculous cure for infertility. Jakub, whose past has seen him both government-sanctioned executioner and victim, is leaving the country for good, and is in town to say goodbye to his ward, Olga, the daughter of a friend he sent to his death. Then there is Bretlef, a rich American who is at once saint and Don Juan. 

Oh yes, and a little blue pill.

Kundera, as usual, beautifully tangles his characters into moral, social, political and emotional knots and still finds time for some trenchant social comment and a spot of jazz. 

But there is more. About one-third of the way through the book Kundera stopped me dead in my tracks with his elucidation of something we in Carmine have been wrestling with over the past couple of years - something I thought I could never hope to understand. In the passage in question, Jakub, the character who has suffered so much under Communist rule, but who has also made others suffer, is wrestling with the exact same question:

“The old men merged in his mind with prison guards, examining magistrates, and informers who spied on their neighbours to see if they talked politics while shopping. What drove such people to their sinister occupations? Spite? Certainly, but also the desire for order. Because the desire for order tries to transform the human world into an inorganic reign in which everything goes well, everything functions as a subject of an impersonal will. The desire for order is at the same time a desire for death, because life is a perpetual violation of order. Or, inversely, the desire for order is the virtuous pretext by which man's hatred for man justifies its crimes.”

And now I have it straight. 



3 comments:

Clipped Wings said...

Great review. Life is a perpetual violation of order, whether with mankind or nature.

Karin said...

Interesting review. Like the statement: "The desire for order is at the same time a desire for death, because life is a perpetual violation of order."

Caution/Lisa said...

What a wonderful review! I think I enjoyed it just about as much as I would enjoy the book :)