Translator: Richard Stokes
Translator: Richard Stokes
This is a novel mostly about three things (in opinion, the most important themes for me, etc, etc.): types of love, what it means to be human and revolution. Which, of course, are subjects full of ideas that are very fascinating for me to explore. I liked how each topic was delved into, providing different perspectives from the views of four different characters. The setting and time period of the novel (Czechoslovakia around the time of Warsaw Pact invasion [a topic of which I now have some knowledge about due to reading this novel and then looking up the events on Wikipedia]) provided a good backdrop in/on which to explore these ideas.
It took me awhile to get a hold of the narration style. At first I was really confused, then I thought maybe I understood, but I didn’t want to assume, so I kept on being confused until I could clarify for sure that who I thought was narrating was narrating (wow, this must be the most convoluted sentence I’ve written since NaNo XP). ANYHOW. The narrator, I eventually grasped, is the author of the novel. However, I wasn’t sure if this was intended to be Kundera or if ‘the author of the novel’ is a character in him/herself. It’s an interesting thought/POV, one I haven’t encountered much (or probably ever) and one I will definitely think about when I reread this book. An excerpt (bits like this aren’t too common, but I absolutely love them, being a writerly type myself):
I have known all these situations, I have experienced them myself, yet none of them has given rise to the person my curriculum vitae and I represent. The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.
My last little note is on chronology. Really, it just jumps all over the place but it in a very orderly and connected way. I wouldn’t even really be thinking about it if it weren’t for the one event that is mentioned every now and then throughout the story and that is Tomas and Tereza’s deaths (this isn’t really a spoiler, there’s a statement at one point that just throws this fact at the reader but I can’t remember where it was. It was in a chapter about Sabina and the fact that Tereza and Tomas die together in a car accident is just thrown in with some other facts. This is also mentioned in couple of other places long before the actual event takes place. If I was writing about this book for an English class, that would be something I would probably pick apart and analyze but honestly, I would have to read the book again and make note of the times that incident crops up to better understand it. It felt, not awkward, but not natural, and I feel like it was there for a reason. Another something to look for when I reread this book, I suppose!
I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started this book. I think I was anticipating more story/plot than character, but I ended up really liking Jim and Will more than I liked the plot. An excerpt of how Bradbury describes the boys:
The trouble with Jim was he looked at the world and could not look away. And when you never look away all your life, by the time you are thirteen you have done twenty years taking in the laundry of the world.
Will Halloway, it was in him young to always look just beyond, over or to one side. So at thirteen he had only saved up six years of staring.
Will and Jim may be well-established archetypes of young boys(Jim, the darker, mysterious, more mature; Will, the more innocent, cautious, tag along) but placed in Bradbury’s hands and executed with his style they come alive in a refreshing way. I also liked how the relationship between Will and his older-than-average Dad played out; I liked how the Dad was eventually a major character.
Bradbury is also evidently a master of the short sentence, long sentence style. I hope this isn’t just something I’m making up; hopefully you understand what I mean. He’s very very good at the short sentences and he’s also very very good at the rambling ones. He knows how to place every word he chooses to use. A rambling sentence:
A carnival should be all growls, roars like timberlands stacked, bundled, rolled and crashed, great explosions of lion dust, men ablaze with working anger, pop bottles jangling, horse buckles shivering, engines and elephants in full stampeded through rains of sweat while zebras neighed and trembled like cage trapped in cage.
And some of the shorter ones:
The sun rose yellow as a lemon.
The sky was round and blue.
The birds looped clear water songs in the air.
Will and Jim leaned from their windows.
Nothing had changed. Except the look in Jim’s eyes.
These examples also shows you what I like about his descriptive prose. I find passages like the one above, combined with shorter, handful of word paragraphs, are a pleasure to read. I get this feeling of very clean, sharp, vibrant prose from Bradbury. Everything he writes is used just right. I think I could learn a lot from this book. Bradbury’s style is very good. I am not very eloquent, forgive me, all I can think of is ‘very good’. But I think he writes with a good style, one that holds up against the test of time. If I could write half as good as Bradbury does, that would be a nice start. I look forward to exploring his other works.
The merry go round was running, yes, but…
It was running backwards!
The small calliope inside the carousel machinery rattled-snapped its nervous-stallion shivering drums, clashed its harvest-moon cymbals, toothed its castanents, and throatily choked and sobbed its reeds, whistles, and baroque flutes.
The music, Will thought, it’s backwards, too!
Afterthought: Yes, I did immediately notice some parallels between this and Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord. I liked Cornelia’s story a lot more, but it does make me wonder if she was inspired by this one. Which wouldn’t at all be a bad thing! I’m just curious about things like that.