advanced reading copy, 128 pages
The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera is a recommended, short novel about five friends and the inconsequentiality of life.
Alain, Ramon, D'Ardelo, Charles, and Caliban are friends living in Paris. While Alain obsesses over the exposed navels of young women as the new erotic/seductive zone, Ramon is strolling through the park and meets D'Ardelo who lies about having cancer and then says he wants to plan a party, using Charles to plan it and Caliban to help. There is also much discussion of Stalin.
The tile of the novel really describes it and will tell you if it is a good selection for you. It really is a novel about nothing. The book is very short, more of a novella, has no story, and very little character development. After I first read it, I had to pause before writing a review. Honestly, I didn't like the characters, and didn't see a point to the novel. The Washington Post review noted that to the unsympathetic, "The Festival of Insignificance will come across as simply inconsequential and pretentious." But then I went back to the title and pondered Kundera's thoughts some more.
Ramon tells us that, "Insignificance is the essence of existence." Moreover, Ramon insists that insignificance will set a person free, require no presence of mind, no vigilance. So we have it established that Kundera is giving us permission to just experience his novel for what it is without looking for an overriding theme or great point. It must also be noted that The Festival of Insignificance is also humorous and celebrates the absurd at times. There are keen bits of startling insight embedded within the musing and antics of these men, such as the theory about "observation posts standing each on a different point in history, from which people talk together unable to understand one another." The discussion becomes in reality two monologues. It is a novel about irrelevance, detachment, insignificance, and, yes, it is a memorial, a festival, to insignificance.
Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.