I have heard so many things about Kundera, and about this novel in particular, that I couldn't wait to read it. An Olympic reading challenge put on by my friends over at The Reader's Room was the perfect opportunity.
Unfortunately, one of the things that I find is that when I am on a deadline to read books I don't always enjoy them as much because I read them at a time when I am just not in the mental space to maximize the experience. Don't get me wrong, I love challenges. Challenges often get me to read a great work that might have languished on my shelf forever. That was the case with this novel. The only problem was that I knew by the time I was twenty pages in that it just wasn't the right time to read this book.
Like any great book, this one is composed of many layers: marriage, infidelity, philosophical musings, history--you get the idea. And Milan Kundera writes them all well. Central to the novel are two writers and the typist that they, for a brief span, shared. I even found his secondary characters particularly well developed, although I never found a single character that I could honestly say that I would have liked to call friend. As the plot circles back and forth through their intertwined lives, you find yourself sympathizing with characters you might otherwise despise, which is always a sign of great empathetic writing, and even if you don't share in the character's inner musings you nonetheless are willing to wander along down the mental garden path.
This, though, was why I think I would have enjoyed this book more had I read it at another time. My life was particularly emotional while I was reading this book, and I found the prose too deep for what I needed at the time. I did give the book four stars in the end--out of recognition for the author's undoubtable talent and his ability to build his characters from their inner selves out. Had I read this novel while in a better place, it would no doubt have been a five star read for me.