Bohumil Hrabal - Too Loud a Solitude
Hant'a works at the controls of a trash compactor, pulping books, newspapers and magazines for the paper mills. Occasionally, he spots a rare or interesting book and takes it for himself, obsessively reading and re-reading his treasures. His entire house is filled with books, 'the only space free is a path to the window and stove.'
He has so many books, in fact, that he fears he will either die by being crushed - thanks to the precariously stacked mountains of books around his bed and toilet, or he will go mad from the sheer amount of words trapped within his skull. Indeed, madness is, in its own insidious way, creeping up already. Books to him give off a magical light that reveals the thoughts and ideas locked within the pages, a light he believes he can see. Hant'a fears he is shrinking - a hasty measurement compared to a few years ago reveals that he is - but more importantly, he starts to fear fresh air and the company of others. He decided that, when he retires, he will take the trash compactor with him, to pulp books all day long, in the order he desires, pulping the books he wants to pulp.
While working or reading, Hant'a remembers, because remembering is all he has. Whether imagining Hegel and Lao-Tze, Schopenhauer and Jesus, or reliving an event in his own life, he remembers. Some of his stories are strange, like the armies of black and white rats he fears are warring underneath the city of Prague, or achingly sad, like his long ago love, 'a tiny Gypsy girl whose name I'd never quite known', a girl who disappears one day to die in a Nazi concentration camp, and who was afraid of kites.
Hearing rumours of a fancy new compactor, Hant'a visits a nearby town to investigate. He is horrified at the impersonal nature of the machine, of the carelessness of the destruction. With every bale of compressed paper that Hant'a creates, he places a much loved book of his own, a ritual of passage, a blessing for the machine. This new compactor does not allow for such quiet poetry, nor could an enterprising employee fish out a rare book caught in its great gnashing maw. He is even more shocked to learn that his bosses are considering a similar machine where he works, and that from now on he will be pulping blank pages, not lovingly crafted books.
There is a sadness to this book, a quiet, impotent sadness at the casual destruction of words and thoughts. Hant'a loves books for what they represent - ideas - and while he admits that he may not understand Kant, he can appreciate the beauty with which the man wrote. Virtually all of the books that Hant'a destroys are old and rare, and barring the ones that he keeps for himself or sends to libraries for safe-keeping, are destroyed with respect and care. Almost all of these books are very old, the most recent book having been published seventy years ago. It is almost as though Hant'a does not understand - or wish to understand - these new books, these mass-marketed crowd pleases. He has fallen for the beauty of the Talmud and Erasmus, and he cannot understand that another would not feel the same way. It is not hard to make of this story one big metaphor for the love and pleasure of ancient texts, it is there in the twenty or so references to Aristotle - and this in a 98 page novel. Too Loud a Solitude is sad, it is quiet, it is furiously impotent. A beautiful way to spend an hour or two, curled up in a quiet bookshelf, reading.