INTERVIEWER
You have described The Book of Laughter and Forgetting as a “novel in the form of variations.” But is it still a novel?
MILAN KUNDERA
There is no unity of action, which is why it does not look like a novel. People can’t imaginea novel without that unity. Even the experiments of the nouveau roman were based on unity of action (or of nonaction). Sterne and Diderot had amused themselves by making the unity extremely fragile. The journey of Jacques and his master takes up the lesser part of Jacques le fataliste; it’s nothing more than a comic pretext in which to fit anecdotes, stories, thoughts. Nevertheless, this pretext, this “frame,” is necessary to make the novel feel like a novel. InThe Book of Laughter and Forgetting there is no longer any such pretext. It’s the unity of the themes and their variations that gives coherence to the whole. Is it a novel? Yes. A novel is a meditation on existence, seen through imaginary characters. The form is unlimited freedom. Throughout its history, the novel has never known how to take advantage of its endless possibilities. It missed its chance.

INTERVIEWER

You have described The Book of Laughter and Forgetting as a “novel in the form of variations.” But is it still a novel?

MILAN KUNDERA

There is no unity of action, which is why it does not look like a novel. People can’t imaginea novel without that unity. Even the experiments of the nouveau roman were based on unity of action (or of nonaction). Sterne and Diderot had amused themselves by making the unity extremely fragile. The journey of Jacques and his master takes up the lesser part of Jacques le fataliste; it’s nothing more than a comic pretext in which to fit anecdotes, stories, thoughts. Nevertheless, this pretext, this “frame,” is necessary to make the novel feel like a novel. InThe Book of Laughter and Forgetting there is no longer any such pretext. It’s the unity of the themes and their variations that gives coherence to the whole. Is it a novel? Yes. A novel is a meditation on existence, seen through imaginary characters. The form is unlimited freedom. Throughout its history, the novel has never known how to take advantage of its endless possibilities. It missed its chance.

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    My favorite novel is “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”