For 35 years, Haňt’a has worked as a compactor of wastepaper and books. You could be forgiven for thinking the destroyer of tonnes of literature (subversive and otherwise) is an unthinking cog in the police state’s machine.
In reality, he has hoarded an incredible number of beautiful books over his 35 year career. His home is now filled to the point where one wrong movement when he’s on the toilet will bring a crushing wave of literature down on him.
Despite this, Haňta doesn’t think that he really reads, instead saying, “I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol“. Throughout the novel, it is almost impossible to distinguish between Haňta’s thoughts and ideas that stem from Voltaire, Hegel and numerous Greek philosophers.
Here, Hrabal’s delicious use of irony creeps in: Haňta is smuggling books home so he can destroy them after his retirement. He aspires to make each block of compacted novels “a work of art”.
Times are changing though, and Haňta sees that his manual job is going to be removed and replaced by a new breed of machine and of person.
I do not want to give any spoilers for this novel so am not writing about the end. Oh. My. Gosh. What an end!
At a mere 98 pages, Too Loud a Solitude was a whirlwind novel, shaped by others’ ideas but drawing its own conclusions, that threw a defiant two-fingered salute at the system at the end. Pure poetry.
This is one for those who love literature, freedom of thought and for those who value the individual in the face of faceless tyranny.
Read for Rose City Reader‘s European Reading Challenge