cover image Dancing Lessons

Dancing Lessons

Bohumil Hrabal, Hrabal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $16 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-15-123810-1

The unnamed narrator of this comic rant proclaims that any book worth its salt is ``meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author's brains out.'' Czech novelist Hrabal (Closely Watched Trains) very nearly fills that peculiar bill in this humorous and breathless affair, which is told in one never-ending sentence--a technique that just may make readers pay him the ultimate compliment by looking around for handy blunt objects. The narrator, a scurrilous old man who claims to have been a shoemaker and a brewer, approaches six sunbathing women and embarks on a rambling monologue about his past loves, the past in general and his ``magic hands for what we called contessa shoes.'' He enjoys telling scandalous tales about his betters, including the one about the old emperor looking up women's skirts. Hrabal, who has been cited as a major literary influence by Milan Kundera and Ivan Klima, among others, is generally considered the most revered living Czech author. It's easy to see why. As this novel (originally published in Czechoslovakia in 1964) plays around with Czech history, juxtaposing the public life of the country with the private life of the narrator, Hrabal displays abounding energy and a rambunctious wit. (Sept.)