Original title: Možnosti milostného románu
A novel about why one person lives with another
There is life’s truth and there is literature’s truth. Unique experience and the desire to find its meaning. There is little we can say about love that hasn’t been said already, yet each generation feels it in its own way.
The new novel by Jan Němec is about love. At first glance, it tells of the ignition of a love affair followed by the highs and lows of a six-year relationship. But the true drama is played out elsewhere – in the agonizing, insistent need to understand why it came to an end. And as the writer has but a single instrument, we witness the emergence of a novel about love from the ruins of a loving relationship. We see how every experience and every conflict has several sides, how encryption grids from other sources – ranging from the Divine Comedy to ephemera from the tabloids – are laid over them, how reality rebels and essentials keep slipping through our fingers. We see, too, how the author transforms into a character in the novel and, in a fair fight, crosses boundaries of physical and mental intimacy. If, as Milan Kundera claims, knowledge is the novel’s only morality, there is no other way.
It is hard to say whether the writing of this novel improved the author’s understanding of life. But there can be no doubt that the outcome is an extraordinary book about love and writing “in the age of digital sorrow” – a book whose openness and cultured style has the power to change the reader and take Czech literature a step further.
“No one who has enjoyed reading the multi-award-winning Dějiny světla / History of Light should miss out on the author's latest novel – a book full of the passion and emotion that has not been as successfully preserved for us in our postmodern world with such purity and consistency as it was for our ancestors for hundreds of years. A spontaneous testimony of love in the age of digital cholera.”
Iva Pecháčková, publisher, Book of the Year 2019 Lidové noviny poll
“There must be plenty of love stories worth recording for their drama, weirdness or destructiveness. All the same, the way this is written shows that Jan is the greatest prose talent of his generation.”
Martin Reiner, writer and publisher, Book of the Year 2019 Lidové noviny poll
“Why do you love me? And what does it mean to love? Seeking answers to basic questions. Cervantes' unrecognized legacy in the age of social networks.”
Petr Vizina, Czech Television editor, Book of the Year 2019 Lidové noviny poll
"Just as you know you're watching a Czech film from the very first shot, so you can normally recognize a Czech book from the very first page. It's hard to say what it is: perhaps the over-eagerness with details and the lack of panache. To Jan Němec's credit it can be said that this does not apply to him. He is able to write an opening just like a Frenchman or a Briton. And carry on the same way.
Ways of Writing about Love is built up in chapters, which like a series of shots or throwing-knives, trace out something that is indescribable. And it should be pointed out that this indescribable entity is brought to life with marvellous acrobatics. (…) The one thing that Ways of Writing about Love is not is just a way of writing about love. None of the aims and procedures that Němec pulls from his sleeve would keep an entire love story going. Not because the author is unable to cope with his craft. After all, he has already written a thick book in the second-person (Dějiny světla / A History of Light), but the material itself has sensitized him to such an extent that he has decided to just gently touch it up from various sides to create an adequate effect.
And in his way he has in general refreshed the way love is written about, just when (as always in history) all the love stories have been written."
Štefan Švec, Salon, Právo
"Ultimately we are going to swallow Jan Němec's literary self-revelation hook, line and sinker, and enjoy it too, because without it Ways of Writing about Love would not work, or if it did work then it would be a different novel about something else – for example, only about love or only about writing. Jan Němec wrote Možnosti like a polyphonic musical composition to include all the instruments that he had at his disposal, very carefully making sure not only that they sound right and play the right notes at the right time but also that they create harmonies (and disharmonies) where the author needs them. And through them he is ultimately not offering some cheap paper exhibition but a decent portion of an essence made up of what is called life."
Jan M. Heller, Iliteratura.cz
"This method of writing produces a novel that is markedly intellectual. Fortunately, the virtuosity with which Jan Němec writes does not place his intellectual faculties on a pedestal as something to be admired. It is more a reflection of a state - things are often complex, so they cannot be written about in a simple way. Precisely because much has already been written, filmed and painted about them.
Thanks to its broad scope, Ways of Writing about Love stands out in the arid grey field of contemporary Czech prose. Where most works finish by rattling off an arduously constructed plot in a hot-and-bothered way, Němec's writing stands out a mile: with its need to deal here and now with what is wrong with the world in which I live, as well, perhaps, as what is wrong with me.
Ways of Writing about Love is remarkable and challenging, as it raises a lot of questions."
Petr A. Bílek, Aktuálně.cz