No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet and computer.
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
The reader sits down to dinner with Chantal, who is waiting for her lover, Jean-Marc, in a seaside hotel. While waiting to be served, she overhears two waitresses discuss the unexplained disappearance of a family man. This blatant foreshadowing posits the central question of Identity: what we think we know about our intimates is predicated on projection, primal yearnings and the deep denial of life's impermanence. Identity reads like a musical exercise; its playing out of themes is reminiscent of a fugue. An image dropped into the narrative will be revisited from a different vantage point, tossed back and forth between the lovers; out of it will be teased every possible meaning. The 51 sparse, tiny chapters reinforce the fuguelike feel.
The plot is simple: Jean-Marc arrives at the hotel; Chantal is out walking. Near misses and mistaken identities characterize his frantic search for her, offering Kundera the opportunity to philosophize on the unknowability of the "other". When they do reunite, Chantal blurts out the distressing thought that's plagued her day: "Men don't turn to look at me anymore." This launches the protagonists into sketchy flashbacks, stilted dialogues and interior monologues, all loosely bound together by their embarkation on an erotic journey.
Key events from the characters' pasts become signature refrains. Chantal, for example, has buried a son, who died at the age of 5. Strands such as this are dropped lightly into the narrative, to be drawn out through later chapters like a needle with different coloured threads. Later, for example, the boy's death will trigger an unpleasant realization--that it was, in the end, a "dreadful gift". Children, she thinks, keep us hopeful in the world, because "it's impossible to have a child and despise the world as it is; that's the world we've put the child into." Thus, her child's death has set her free to live out her genuine disdain of the world. Although the illogical extremes of Kundera's thought can be wildly dissonant and wondrously shocking, this reiterative device of Identity lacks energy. There's no sense of discovery about these characters. They remain flat; the style effects one like an Ingmar Bergman film when one is in the mood for Sam Peckinpah.
As if in serendipitous response to her pain in getting older, Chantal receives an anonymous "love" note. More notes follow. Will they prove Jean-Marc's attempt to sweeten her sad disclosure? Her sexual awakening begins to blur the boundaries of what's real. All well and good, but somewhere along the line, Kundera concludes that Chantal is weak because she's older. Age, we are asked to believe, becomes a wedge between the lovers, even though Chantal is only a few years older than Jean-Marc, who is himself only 42. And in the exploration of her sexuality on the wax and wane Kundera succumbs to cliché: she is consumed too often by too many flames, and red is all used up as a symbol of violent passion. On the subject of male and female desire, Kundera is incomparably funny, and the novel sports some nervy images-- masturbating foetuses; our human community joined in a sea of saliva; the ubiquity of spying eyes, harvesting information for profit; the human gaze itself, a marvel, jaggedly interrupted by the mechanical action of the blink.
Kundera betrays a witty revulsion for the values and mores of the late 20th century, but with sentences like "This is the real and the only reason for friendship: to provide a mirror so the other person can contemplate his image from the past, which, without the eternal blah-blah of memories between pals, would long ago have disappeared," the reading experience reduces to an annoyance. Perhaps this is the fault of the translator attempting a breezy, colloquial tone. But it's sloppy and careless. Still, the novel's an entertainment and a good companion. Reading it is like passing an afternoon in a sidewalk café, catching up with an old friend, say, with whom one has shared youthful cynicism and diatribes against the ignominies of human behaviour. One will look back on such an afternoon and remember too many Galloises smoked, too many cups of coffee, moments of intense engagement that fell, alas, into the indulgence of a "retro ennui". --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Identity - by the hugely acclaimed Czech novelist Milan Kundera - is a novel which only provides further evidence of the astonishing literary, philosophical and psychological gifts belonging to the author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.See all Product Description
It's not everybody's cup of tea as it's a deeply intellectual and philosophical book but if you like this sort of thing, then it's a little gem with a clever twist in the end that... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Grace
What's going on? There seems to be a little gem lurking here. But is it or isn't it? And then you realise the problem has to be the translation. Read morePublished on 19 Oct. 2012 by tipperary
The important thing to remember, just as the reader from Chicago said, is that there is nothing to 'get'. Kundera writes beautifully and touchingly and that is enough in itself. Read morePublished on 10 Mar. 2001
Short novel. Subtle, very clever, weaves between two people, as well as reality and illusion, in a relationship.Published on 12 Jan. 2001