Book Reviews
Identity: Milan Kundera
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on Identity: Milan Kundera
Identity: Milan Kundera

How many of us can claim to truly know the mind of the person closest and dearest to us? In this small gem of a novel Milan Kundera holds his magic mirror to the thoughts of lovers Chantal and Jean Marc, sliding from one to the other with deceptive ease.

The novel begins with Chantal, waiting for Jean Marc in the dining room of a small hotel and listening to two waitresses discussing a television programme about missing persons. Later, in her room, she imagines what it would be like to lose him in that way and falls into a disturbing dream in which the past rearranges itself.

The following day, having missed her at the hotel, Jean Marc tries to catch up with her on the shore, and seeing a figure he takes to be Chantal makes his way towards it, only to find when the woman turns that it’s not his lover at all.

From this point in the novel the couple seem to inhabit each other’s dreams and imaginings, each analysing the thoughts and feelings of the other in a way that is wholly believable. The words they speak to one another take on hidden meanings and seem only to deepen feelings that the other is not the person originally perceived and loved. With this loss of identity the isolation of each grows to an almost unbearable degree.

This short novel could justifiably be called a psychological study. I found it so compelling that I read it in one sitting. It’s rare to find a writer who can delve this deeply into the mind of the opposite sex without a single jarring note, yet the author has conjured both Chantal and Jean Marc into being with extraordinary economy and truth. The novel is all the more beautiful for that.

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