Milan Kundera writes about novels by placing the form within its historical context. He begins with Cervantes as the first modern novelist and moves all over Europe into the twentieth century. Here are some of the books he mentions:
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes – the original novel
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding – novelistic freedom is displayed here with Fielding interrupting his own story with authorial digressions
Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne – the ‘story’ is dethroned and the novel is one long digression
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert – Flaubert said of this book, “I have always done my utmost to get into the soul of things.”
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – a concentration of events within a compressed period of time that before had only been seen in the theatre
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – the ideal tragic ending
Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz – a rendering of the fundamental shift during the 20th century into a more modern age
Amerika by Franz Kafka – a joke in a novel form, the mask of the plausible is pulled over the implausible
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – a novel with no scenes, recounted with a freedom of fantasy
There are many many many other books mentioned in The Curtain. The above are listed because they are the ones that caught my eye. Some I have read. Some I have always meant to read.
I’ve been inspired to begin reading some more classics to round out my heavily contemporary reading selections and I picked up a copy of Don Quixote – unabridged, thank you very much. I also might reread some of these classics that are on my bookshelves.
This slim volume of Kundera’s thoughts on novels and craft has really inspired me and heightened my awareness of technique and greatness. Sometimes I need a kick in the butt to get me out of my slump.