Milan Kundera has a light touch. His novels play on ideas with an intellectual adroitness rarely to be found in Anglo-Saxon writers. They also display a sly sense of humour which is all too liable to lead to misunderstanding by less than attentive readers. The central theme of these interlinked essays is precisely those failures of understanding which tend to pervert the reception of an artist’s work. He pursues this leitmotif through the work of some of the writers and composers to whom he feels closest – here pre-eminently Kafka, Janáček and Stravinsky – but allows himself space for digression on whatever emerges en route. The transition in Kundera from novelist to essayist is an easy one. Just as the novels are full of essayistic asides, so his essays are full of novelistic episodes.
For Kundera, the novelist is not there to point a moral or to condemn. Rather, the peculiar morality of the novel consists of its ability to suspend moral judgement, to give us time out from the common human predilection for judging others prior to understanding them. The novel for him