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Milan Kundera: the unbearable search for a decent coffee

Milan Kundera: the unbearable lightness of having drunk far too much coffee.

‘Novel = heightened story.’ (Philip Larkin in Selected Letters of Philip Larkin, 1941)

‘There are four ‘appeals’ of the novel: (1) the appeal of play; (2) the appeal of dream; (2) the appeal of thought; (4) the appeal of time.’ (Milan Kundera in The Art of the Novel, 1986)

‘I think that novels tend to fail not when the characters are not vivid or deep enough, but when the novel in question has failed to teach us how to adapt to its conventions, has failed to manage a specific hunger for its own characters, its own reality-level.  In such cases, our appetite is quickly disappointed, and surges wildly in excess of what we are provided, and we tend to blame the author for not giving us enough – the characters, we complain, are not alive or round or free enough.  Yet we would not dream of accusing Sebold or Woolf or Roth – none of whom is especially interested in creating character in the solid, old-fashioned nineteenth-century sense – of letting us down in this way, because they have so finely tutored us in their own conventions, their own expansive limitations, to be satisfied with just what they give us.’  (James Wood in How Fiction Works, 2008)

‘If it is the job of the novelist in part to document an era, to define what is ‘novel’ about their time and to interpret in new ways that which they see, then it makes sense that the best novels are the ones that work hardest at tearing up the foundations of the world as we know it, shifting away from convention, spotlighting the marginalised, and imagining and re-imagining this life and the world.’  (Slightly paraphrased from a review titled ‘Unpicking the Universe’ by Louise Swinn, Overland Issue 189, 2007)

‘[Here are the] inviolable standards: (1) a writer must give the maximum amount of information about a character: about his physical experience, his way of speaking and behaving; (2) he must let the reader know a character’s past, because that is where the motives are present and the behaviours are born; and (3) the character must have complete independence; that is to say , the author with his own considerations must disappear so as not to disturb the reader who wants to give himself over to illusion, and take fiction for reality.’ (Milan Kundera in The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera, 1986)

‘Literature that’s worth reading should tell you something that you didn’t know, and at the same time make that knowledge indispensable.’  (Dorothy Johnston in The Canberra Times, 19 July, 2008)

‘Novels are always about time.’  (Margaret Atwood)

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