Saturday, September 15, 2012

Too Loud a Solitude - Bohumil Hrabal

'For thirty-five years now I’ve been in wastepaper, and it’s my love story'

For 35 years Hantá has been working in a press, compacting old and discarded books and papers into pulp. His acquaintance with books and words are so high that he end up 'rescuing' books from the jaws of the massive press, by sneaking them out. These books occupy the majority of his single room attic, threatening to topple over and crush him. He scared about the possibility of the only human being crushed under the debris of books. To avoid the monotonous nature of his work and his loneliness, he has turned alcoholic ( “drunk so much beer over the past thirty-five years that it could fill an Olympic pool, an entire fish hatchery”). He has no family , relatives or friends and his life is spent between press and his book, barring an occasional visit to the pub. His mother died long ago, and an uncle whom he frequent ( who after retirement as a Railway Signal man, erected a signal post in his courtyard with the help of his friends) also died some time ago. Now that his tenure at the press is coming to an end, 5 more years to go, he is also worried about his future and contemplating a similar action, of buying a second hand press and install in his attic.

Despite his idiotic outlook and alcoholic spurts , he is a learnt man. He can quote from Kant, Derrida and other philosophers at will, and have spent a long time reading the books he managed to take out.
"Because when I read, I don't really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol..."
Despite his physical out look of a rag, dirty , unwashed and illiterate drunkard, he has profound wisdom of words from his books. He often wonders "which of his thoughts come from me and which one from the books". His thoughts, comes outs as first person narrative, is often riddled with his reminiscence of his few unsuccessful relationships one Manca, who splash 'shit' over the other dancers at a party and a gypsy girl much later.

The war is over and the world around him is changing. The country is now under the autocratic rule. The technology is advanced and there are newer press is installed in other parts of the town, which calls for lesser number of manpower and faster and more effective. He is not able to come to terms with these changes and his visit to one of the new press to understand the system, only managed to terrify him and increase his worries of his future. The inevitable had to come, as his boss installs new machines and labours skilled enough to handle the newer methods and machines, asking him to leave the job. In the last chapter, Hantá dreams about the collapse of the civilization and the system under the new press, as the building, the roads, the populace and town crumbles under the heavy arms of the giant press, taking him along.

To Hanta, his existence is revolved around the press and the books. Every efforts from his side to go along with the changing world had been futile. As he noted,
"everything I see in this world, it all moves backward and forward at the same time, like a blacksmith’s bellows, like everything in my press, turning into its opposite at the command of red and green buttons, and that’s what makes the world go round.”
The book, originally written in 1976, but was published only by 1989. It might be against the totalitarian regime of the Republic, even though there are no direct references. Hanta's life and fate is that of every human being. The isolation in society, the solitude one feel among chaos and the maddening world, the comfort under your own settings and inability to get out of the zone are something universal and eternal. Hanta's own reflections of his past is limited to few failed attempts to get a companion in life. As he is crumbling, the entire universe of his, is crumbling along with him.

You don't need to write mammoth books to create an impact. What a 1000+ pages book could not do, was managed by sub 100 pages, if they are conceived and handled by masters. Having read "Closely Observed Trains" a few months ago, I was hugely influenced by Bohumil Hrabal and the quest for his other works thus began. Many of his admirers recommended 'Too Loud a Solitude" and here it is. My respect and admiration for this writer only increased post these two books.

Its pure magic, that is in these pages. Hrabal's language, his voice , his style is brilliant. The book is often funny and the character is idiotic. However, the omnipresent irony, the pathos is evident as you read the pages through, coming to a most fitting end to the narrative. As is with the previous book I read, this too demand a few re-reading. I am overwhelmed.
Too Loud a Solitude ( 1977)

Bohumil Hrabal ( translated from Czech by Michael Henry Heim 1990)


98 Pages
Wiki entry, The Asylum


Miguel said...

It looks indeed like a very lonely book. The vision of cultural decay in the end seems very interesting, and in line with a book I've read recently - Raul Brandão's "Húmus."

I'll have to add Hrabal to my list.

Jayan Parameswaran said...

You will not be disappointed.

Now, Raul Brandao - That is a new name for me. Did some search and not able to find any translations of Humus. Any idea if this has been translated to English ?

By the way, looking forward to your take on Inquisitor's Manual.


Dwight said...

I think this is my favorite by Hrabal so far, although I still have more to read. Enjoy the write-up!

Miguel said...

Brandão is available in French. Now last week I sent an e-mail to Dedalus Press, suggesting they translate Brandão into English. They wrote back saying they'll consider it. Who knows, maybe one day he'll be available :)

My review of Lobo Antunes' novel may take a while; I have lots of other books I want to read first, besides I need to be in a certain state to read him...