First impressions last

Too Loud a Solitude

Imagine you're employed to pulp works of fiction and literature, compressing them to heavy paper bundles for recycling. For reasons never fully explained you must destroy copy after copy of Kants, Gauguins, Lao-Tzes, Rimbauds. But you start to take books home. You fill shelf after shelf. You construct works of art based on juxtapositions of knowledge only you'll ever see, or paintings placed on the outside of bundles for everyone in the city to see as they're transported away. But how do you survive thirty-five years of this creative destruction? How do you live with yourself?

This beautiful, word-soaked novella from Bohumil Hrabal attempts to answer that question by giving Haňt'a, the self-educated narrator, leave to speak. It sets the beauty of art, and the art inherent in a job beautifully done, against the everyday dirt and grime of slaughterhouse meat-wrappers and mouldy, mice-ridden sacks of once-paper. Rich and condensed, it's more reminiscent of a warming, spicy single malt, drunk alone and pensively, than a sustaining meal or a night out with the author as a drinking companion.

Too Loud a Solitude demonstrates a clarity of thought and expression reminiscent of the best of Milan Kundera. It shows eloquently how the inner life survives and continues to express itself in spite of the police-state actions that seem, dimly, to be directing the pulping and transportation of art: Haňt'a is read a poem at knifepoint by a frustrated artist; a singer threatens the inhabitants of a bar so that he might perform, briefly, and then run. But Haňt'a himself is the true revelation, a quiet, unassuming, boozy man whose soul harbours the entirety of Western literature, an appreciation of life in all its forms, and the sorrow of lost love and unexpressed emotion, bottled up, condensed, potent like a toxin.