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November 16th, 2011 - i'm a very very complex person

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November 16th, 2011

03:59 pm - If a book has anything to say, it burns with a quiet laugh…
Originally published in Czechoslovakia in 1976, Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal tells the story of Hanta, a man who has spent thirty-five years compacting wastepaper with a hydraulic press. He spends his days in a cellar full of every kind of paper product: blood-soaked butcher's paper, newspapers, encyclopedias, rare editions of the classics of philosophy and literature. Although Hanta seems to have no (or very little) formal education, he has an infinite capacity to be moved by the written word. He saves the books that pass through his cellar, taking them home and filling his little apartment with them until his apartment comes to resemble his mind--filled to bursting with works by Kafka and Camus, Sophocles and Lao-tzu.

Too Loud a Solitude is a short book--only a hundred pages--and there is very little plot. Instead, it takes the form of Hanta's lament: a lament for the books and paper he's forced to destroy, for the mice who build homes inside his piles of wastepaper and end up crushed by his press, for the two lost loves of his youth whom we see in dream-like snatches of memory, and eventually, once Hanta and his press have been replaced by the Brigade of Socialist Labor and their high-tech crushing machine, for his own lost way of life.

It's a strange little book, and it didn't rouse any particular passion in me, but there is a sort of beauty in it. Hrabal's descriptive writing can be very effective; it's only after he has shown us the clean, uniformed workers of the Brigade of Socialist Labor and the sterile efficiency of their workplace that we realize the true beauty of Hanta's dark cellar with its mounds of decaying paper, and of Hanta's strange and intense relationship with the books that come into it. It reminds me a bit of Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion. In both books, the images carry all the power while the details of plot and character fade into the background.

Although I haven't really loved either of the books by Hrabal that I've read, I think I liked this one better than I Served the King of England. In many ways they two books are opposites. I Served the King of England is full of plot--one madcap event after another, piled up on top of each other until the story becomes impossible to believe. Hrabal's writing style seems better suited to the dreamy, imagistic world of Too Loud a Solitude.

Sometimes I think that the best part of finishing a book is getting to decide what to read next. I took a long, rainy walk to the library this morning and came home with three books that I'm excited about: The Snapper by Roddy Doyle (sequel of sorts to The Commitments), A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood, and Life Times, a big volume of collected stories by Nadine Gordimer. I think I'll start with the Roddy Doyle because I feel like I haven't quite pulled out of my Palace Walk-induced reading funk, so I could do with something quick and funny.

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