A magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world," writes Milan Kundera in The Curtain, his fascinating new book on the art of the novel. "Cervantes sent Don Quixote journeying and tore the curtain. The world opened before the knight errant in all the comical nakedness of its prose." For Kundera, that curtain represents the ready-made perception of the world that each of us has -- a pre-interpreted world. The job of the novelist, he argues, is to rip through the curtain and reveal what it hides.
In this entertaining and always stimulating essay, Kundera deftly sketches out his personal view of the history and value of the novel in Western civilization. Too often, he suggests, a novel is thought about only within the confines of the language and nation of its origin, when in fact the novel's development has always occurred across borders: Laurence Sterne learned from Rabelais, Henry Fielding from Cervantes, Joyce from Flaubert, García Márquez from Kafka. The real work of a novel is not bound up in the specifics of any one language: what makes a novel matter is its ability to reveal some previously unknown aspect of our existence. In The Curtain, Kundera skillfully describes how the best novels do just that.
A work of nonfiction, this new book takes us inside the author's favorite novels, showing us how they work and what makes them great. Here are thoughtful, provocative readings of Tolstoy, Kafka, García Márquez, Cervantes, Flaubert, Stendhal, Balzac, Joyce, and others. Kundera writes that novels are important to us because they get to the soul of things, they tear through the curtain of our preconceptions, showing us the world as it really is. They express things that cannot be expressed by any other medium, and that is why so many of us can't do without them. Kundera is a brilliant reader, and he gives us a hands-on exploration of the art of the novel without theory or jargon: The Curtain is sheer pleasure to read.
… [Kundera] is one of the most erudite novelists on the planet. Not since Henry James, perhaps, has a fiction writer examined the process of writing with such insight, authority and range of reference and allusion.