Review | The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera

I was tossing up whether or not to review this book.  I thought it was beautifully written but was aware that some of Milan Kundera’s philosophical ideas whooshed over my head.  What right do I have to review I book I don’t understand?  And what is the point of a book in which the “message” is as elusive as a feather on the breeze?


A wise person pointed out that nevertheless, what I thought could help you to decide if this book is right for you.  So in a nutshell, I thought that The Festival of Insignificance is a gem that I hope to return to in the future.  As I grow older, my lens for re-reading this book will undoubtedly change resulting in a new experience and appreciation.

You might remember I featured this book in a haul post when it first came out earlier this year.  At only 115 pages, it was easy to knock over on my train trip to work.  My hardcover copy looks gorgeous with a lemon yellow jacket and duck egg blue end papers.  A book this beautifully published withstands being judged by its cover.  Swoon over it.  I did.

The Festival of Insignificance follows the thoughts of several French men, as they consider the many facets of life and death.  The story is broken up into vignettes that flick between the various characters.  The omniscient narrator is intimate with each of their thoughts and feelings.  We will often see the same event from several points of view, highlighting how a different pair of eyes will see a different significance.  The authentically developed characters are almost wasted on such a short novel.

French-Czech author, Milan Kundera’s, style thrives on simplicity, humour, and human truth.  It is full of memorable writing, thought-provoking ideas that come full circle, and masterfully simple description.  This book is a light read – gently paced and introspective.  Reminiscent of a Woody Allen comedy, it maintains a fun exterior while hinting at deeper ideas hidden just out of sight.

A tiny thing fluttering beneath the ceiling; a very small white feather that slowly hovered, floated downward, then upward … Watching the little feather’s wanderings, Charles felt a stab of anguish: It struck him that the angel he had thought about these past weeks was alerting him that it was already somewhere here, very nearby.  Perhaps, frightened, before it was to be flung out of heaven it had let loose from its wing this tiny barely visible feather, like a wisp of anxiety, like a memory of the happy life it had shared with the stars, like a calling card meant to explain its arrival and declare the approaching end.  But Charles was not yet ready to face the end; he would have liked the put it off for later – page 72

The ideas in this book don’t stop after the final page, but live in the back of your mind like a scene from a movie to be replayed in your memory.  Maybe understanding its “message” isn’t the point.  Maybe the point is letting its feelings stay with you and colour your view of the world.  For now, I’m happy with that.  

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