I was never a fan of romance novels and should have recognized this book for what it is but that’s how good Kundera is. He plays and taunt you to think so that this doesn’t become your boy-meets-girl love story, nor does it reflect a sexual discovery but rather becomes a reflection and philosophy on and of love.
The book Identity mainly presents the character sketch of Jean-Marc and Chantal – a couple who seemed to have lost their identities over time. Chantal feels as if her age has taken over her, dragging her to an eventual end while Jean-Marc feels as if he has mistaken Chantal’s identity, not recognizing who she is and thus, not recognizing who he is. The book begins with a statement from Chantal that shall move the story further – “Men don’t stop to look at me anymore.” This statement shall make Jean-Marc go to extreme lengths to pacify and obliterate such apparent fear from Chantal, pretending to be Chantal’s secret admirer, only to be discovered later. It was at this discovery that they have chosen to break free from each other, only to find that it is only with each other they can truly understand who they are and who they want to be.
What I like about this book is its ability to separate the individual from the couple. Although it is mainly about their relationship, Kundera offered a snippet of each other’s perspective, how a girl and a boy looks and reacts at one situation, how each reaction produce an effect and how that move the next series of events. It’s a He said, She said sort of thing – something that helps a person understand “identities” of both genders. I also like the idea that this book is “mature.” It talks about a realistic situation – one that many people experience but refuse to admit – growing up. It’s some sort of mid-life crisis – a time where one observes and realizes that she isn’t who she was and has difficulty looking ahead, a time where many things seem to fall to disarray and order is impossible, a time where nothing else matters or nothing makes sense, nothing is recognizable, not even the one person that is most significant to you. I like the concept of this because it’s true. I may be too young to talk about mid-life crisis but I really think that Chantal’s reaction, is nothing but what we call… an “emo” moment while Jean-Marc’s, an “OA” reaction. Come to think of it, they are quite a pair because of that. They did manage to connect to both their individual personalities and merge themselves once more – seemingly as new individuals in the end.
Which brings me to what I don’t like this book. The topic is very simple and it stretches to one complete book, worse, to a happy ending. It’s not that I don’t like happy endings, it’s just that the book is nothing different from a roller-coaster relationship many teenagers have today, with one situation, emphasized and stretched to fit in one book. I find the book too simple and plain, too “romantic.” I was looking for more ways to understand them, for more situations, for more events maybe, but the book has nothing else more to offer.
I guess this isn’t really just my thing.