23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Outstanding - A Genius' Best Work,
This review is from: Immortality (Paperback)
I'll start by saying that I consider Milan Kundera to be the world's greatest living writer, and then mention that I believe this is his finest work, encompassing everything that it great about his writing.
The basic plot is about two sisters Agnes and Laura and their relationships with two radio broadcasters. But no one should read Kundera for the plot - there is always much more, and in this respect Immortality is no different to his earlier work.
So we get sections about Goethe and Hemingway, and three hundred pages into the book a new character is introduced on whom the narrative is focalised almost until the end. And there is Kundera's constant authorial voice, which is where, for me, this novel's genius is derived.
Kundera is a definite storyteller, in that he is always telling a story, and we are always aware that HE is telling it. And he tells it so deftly that he can bring to life highly realistic characters, and at the same time dismiss their reality. In Immortality, his presence is more clearly defined than ever, with numerous first person passages being included in which he describes meetings with his (presumably fictional) friend Professor Avenarius.
This is where one of the most remarkable features of the novel appears. Kundera (as a character) talks with Avenarius about the progress of his novel (the very novel which we read this in), and describes the characters of the novel as living alongside Avenarius, and therefore, presumably Kundera himself. There are further connections; for example he describes listening to the radio station which his characters work on.
You may well be thinking that I have misinterpreted a fairly standard first-person narration in which the narrator relates the lives of other characters. Perhaps I have. Perhaps Kundera has turned himself into a character. But if this is the case, then he certainly fooled me. The same wonderful authorial voice that can be found throughout his work is visible, and he even has the audacity at one point to give Avenarius (the character) a copy of one of his earlier novel's, Life is Elsewhere.
The way in which he breaks down the barriers between fiction and reality like this, to my mind, where the genius of Immortality lies. Kundera transcends the boundaries of storytelling, and yet still tells a fantastic story.
There is further greatness, such as the treatment of the main theme of immortality, and man's desire for it, but I have said enough, and there is too much to say about, and find within this incredible book.
Immortality is Milan Kundera at his most Kunderaesque. So, if you don't like Kundera, I don't recommend it to you. If you haven't read any Kundera, I don't really recommend it either: start with The Unbearable Lightness of Being or The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and get used to his voice rather than being plunged into a combination of that voice and the rest of the novel.
But if you haven't read any Kundera, then stop reading this and go and read some!
For me (someone who, you may have surmised, likes Milan Kundera very much indeed), this is one of the greatest books ever written, and I would urge everybody to read it at some point.