cover image Too Loud a Solitude

Too Loud a Solitude

Bohumil Hrabal. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $16.95 (98pp) ISBN 978-0-15-190491-4

One of Czechoslovakia's most popular authors, Hrabal ( I Served the King of England ) was never a dissident, nor are his books polemics; he is noted for his visceral, fabulistic prose and bizarre sense of humor. Hanta, the narrator of this absorbing novella, is a gentle alcoholic who has spent 35 years compacting wastepaper. In his messy, subterranean world, the refuse of human life accumulates: bloody butcher paper, office correspondence, yellowed newspapers and, most importantly, books. Able to quote Kant, Goethe and Seneca, he is both ``artist and audience'' as he destroys or selects for his own enjoyment the printed matter others have discarded. Hanta's unusual occupation--in a country which until recently suffered severe literary censorship--is an ironic backdrop as he reflects on the women he has loved or imaginary encounters between historical figures such as Jesus Christ and Lao-tze. This fable about the modern-day equivalent of book-burning, although a showcase for Hrabal's dazzling writing talent, often slides into parody, under the weight of its obtrusive morality. (Sept.)