Milan Kundera’s The Festival of Insignificance was translated from the French by Linda Asher, and was first published in the United Kingdom in 2015. I hadn’t heard of it before I spotted it in the library, and thought it would be perfect for my Saturdays in Translation challenge. I have largely enjoyed Kundera’s writing in the past, and the blurb certainly intrigued: ‘Casting light on the most serious of problems and at the same time saying not one serious sentence; being fascinated by the reality of the contemporary world and at the same time avoiding realism – that’s The Festival of Insignificance’.
Split into seven parts, and filling just over one hundred pages, the novella begins in a way that, to me, smacked of Kundera: ‘It was the month of June, the morning sun was emerging from the clouds, and Alain was walking slowly down a Paris street. He observed the young girls, who – every one of them – showed her naked navel between trousers belted very low and a T-shirt cut very short. He was captivated; captivated and even disturbed: It was as if their seductive power no longer resided in their thighs, their buttocks, or their breasts, but in that small round hole located in the center of the body’. In the opening section of the book, we meet what Kundera terms the ‘Heroes’ of the piece. D’Ardelo, for instance, has been given the all-clear following a rigorous series of medical tests, but decides to fabricate an illness when he meets former colleague Ramon in the park: ‘Just simply, without knowing why, his fictional cancer pleased him’.
As with a lot of Kundera’s work, elaborately philosophical ideas and chapter headings have been inserted into every chapter – for instance, ‘Ramon’s Lesson on Brilliance and Insignificance’, and ‘Alain Sets a Bottle of Armagnac on Top of His Armoire’. Many of these details are superfluous, but they do occasionally add a little humour to what would otherwise feel like quite a serious, slow-moving piece of literature. The inclusions about Russian history were fascinating, but some of the philosophy, and a lot of the initial ideas, were repeated, often several times. The Festival of Insignificance was, to me, a book which I could happily have not read; it was not as compelling as other works of Kundera’s, and did not really reach a favourable ending, slim as it was. I do admire Kundera’s books, but I certainly wouldn’t count him as among my favourite authors. It was, I suppose, rather an insignificant entry upon my reading list; one which I am relatively indifferent to.