Wednesday 23 September 2015
Review by Maria San Sercozini of “Immortality” by Milan Kundera
A simple, yet elegant gesture of an older woman casually waving to her swimming instructor sets the scene for Milan Kundera’s novel Immortality, first published in English in 1991.
Set in Paris, Immortality examines the relationships of Agnes, her husband Paul and her sister, Laura. When her father dies, Agnes fully realises that whilst she may believe her marriage to be content, she has never really known what true passion and love are. She is a solitary figure with a desire to escape her life by retreating to Switzerland. Laura is Agnes’ opposite - jealous of her sister, inquisitive and passionately wanting to acquire whatever Agnes has – including Paul.
The novel sets out to explore one’s desire for immortality, our need to control our reputation and how we wish to be remembered after death. Agnes wants immortality by fleeing human contact; Laura pursues it by acquiring things: lovers, material objects and ultimately her dead sister’s husband.
Skillful storytelling manifests itself with further mini-plots. You find conversations between 18th century author Goethe, Napoleon and Ernest Hemingway. Kundera tries to convey how these historic figures attempt to emulate their own immortality through their literary works and historic feats. Mirroring the lives of Agnes, Paul and Laura, we also have the comic sub plot of Goethe, his fame-hungry young lover Bettina and his wife.
Characters flow naturally in and out of the novel. There is rebellious tyre slasher Prof Avenarius, the solitary stand-alone character of Ruben who had an affair with Agnes many years ago, and of course Kundera steps in himself, just to make sure we understand what he is trying to say.
The conversations, subplots and philosophical musings may leave you confused, but eventually it all comes together beautifully. Kundera says it himself:
“If a reader skips a single sentence of my novel he won’t be able to understand it.”
About the reviewer
Maria San Sercozini was born and raised in Leicester, but has left a little part of her heart somewhere in the Mediterranean islands.