Sunday, 3 August 2014

Book Club: July 2014

July 2014: Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

Sorry this book review is a few days late - I did actually finish the book in July but it's been hard finding time to write the review, or finding the energy, but here we go! July's book was Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal, this time picked by Isha. Much like last month I hadn't heard of this book before, nor would it ever be something I would usually pick up. But like I've said previously, I'm happy to be trying out new genres and pushing myself to read different things. When this book arrived in the post I was surprised by how small it is - it is only 98 pages long and could easily be read in an afternoon. (Instead I spread it over a few evenings as I didn't have time during the day) If fact, I really enjoyed that it was so small because it slotted in nicely between other books I have read recently - and I felt I didn't have to worry about finding time to read it. Apart from knowing that this book is well loved by Isha, as well as people on Goodreads with it scoring a 4.20 average rating (which is high - for those you who don't use Goodreads), I didn't know much else about it. The blurb also doesn't give much away, apart from that it's about a man called Hant'a who is a 'beer-soaked idiot', and has been compacting wastepaper and books for the past thirty-five years; which left me wondering how a book this small could possibly develop a story line in so little pages?

This book is set in Czechoslovakia and was written during the 1970's, during the Warsaw Pact where books were ordered to be destroyed due to the fear of knowledge. (I hope that's right - correct me if I'm wrong?) The main character, Hant'a, has the job of compressing books and paper into waste paper with the help of his hydraulic press, which he has been doing for most of his life. He spends his time in a cellar surrounded by mice and books, and being yelled at by his boss for not keeping up to speed because he's too busy reading and rescuing books. I found Hant'a, the main character, extremely likeable and even though his job isn't particularly 'exciting', his storyline was still fascinating. In other reviews I have read since finishing the book, and also the blurb itself, they all describe Hant'a as an 'idiot' - not in the intellectual sense, but I guess in the 'clown' sense. But I personally don't see it - at all. Maybe I missed his idiotic behaviour somehow, but I read about a man who very much lived inside his own head, who is extremely passionate and is interested in the simply things in life - like saving books, and his job - and I very much related to that. I see my life as a very simple one, and my main joy in life is sewing and fashion, and without that I am nothing. (that sounds really dramatic - obviously there is more to me, but if fashion, and sewing, and making etc. wasn't in my life, I would feel very much lost) And if you've read the book, then I completely understand the reasoning of the ending - which I won't spoil for those that haven't read it. Despite being an independent man who keeps himself to himself, we do see him interact with other characters such as his Uncle, and an eccentric friend, and a gypsy woman etc. All his interactions were like mini stories within the story, which I found really interesting, particularly because you learnt more about Hant'a as a character.

The whole time I was reading this book, all I kept imagining was how good a book this would be if you were studying English, whether it be at school or university, as I can imagine analysing all the hidden meanings. I might have got this completely wrong, but in my head I kept comparing his hydraulic press to a gas chamber, and the books to prisoners, and how Hant'a was almost like a book version of Schindler by trying to save as many books as possible - and I kept thinking about that scene in Schindler's List where he say's 'I could've got one more person!' - with Hant'a thinking 'just one more book!' In fact, Hant'a saves so many books that his house is full of them and he's even afraid to go to bed in case they all crush him whilst he's asleep. I admire his passion and commitment.

I feel my review is short and vague, probably because I don't feel I can properly appreciate this book because I don't understand a lot of the things mentioned within the storyline, such as the books and authors that Hant'a loves. Nor can I pretend to know lots of facts about the history of Czechoslovakia, or about the Warsaw Pact, and it took me ages to work out what a hydraulic press is. (I'm not one to go googling words along side reading, I'd rather just struggle on through and work it out on my own) I feel bad for not knowing about all these things, and I almost few 'unqualified' to properly review this book due to my lack of knowledge - which is probably why I've struggled to write it. And not only that, It's taken me ages to work out how I feel about this book, due to my lack of knowledge. I definitely, to some degree, enjoyed this book. It made me laugh at some points, and I found Hant'a extremely likeable. If anything, I wish the book was longer so I could learn more about Hant'a. It was a toss up between three or four stars, and I couldn't decide for a while - but I feel I have to settle on three due to my lack of understanding, and not because of the book itself. I think if you're really interested in historical fiction, or short books, then you will love it.

3 out of 5 stars

Don't forget to read my fellow bookclubber's reviews too:
Isha, and Marie.

You can also read my other book club reviews here:

Don't forget to add me as a friend on Goodreads, so you can see what else I've been reading, and I'd also like to see what you've been reading too!

Looking forward to August's book!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely review Charlotte :) I definitely found Hant'a extremely likable as well, and I think if he hadn't been, the novella would have been a far more difficult experience emotionally. I don't think anyone is unqualified to read a book honestly. If you can read, and you like to read, then you are definitely qualified to do so. And no matter what everyone is going to get something different out of a work of writing anyway :)