Too Loud a Solitude: A Novel by Bohumil Hrabal; translated by Michael Henry Heim (San Diego: Harcourt, Inc., 1990; originally published in 1976. 112 pp)

Bohumil Hrabal was a Czech writer born in 1914. He earned a law degree at Prague’s Charles University and he wrote countless books over the course of his career. He died in 1997.

The Dark Side of Customer Advocacy

In the business world, people often seek positive growth through word-of-mouth recommendations from customers. Word of mouth is the big profit driver. It outstrips television advertising, yellow page ads, and billboards. The idea is that an advocate for a product—especially a friend or family member—is more trustworthy than any communication originating from a business.

Well, word of mouth can also have a dark side; it can create too much hype. When a product, service, or work of art receives too much praise, expectations might rise to unsustainable levels. I often have heard a movie, book, or album is the best ever, to the point where my experience never realizes the lofty status I perceived it held.

I felt this way about Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude.

“For thirty-five years now I’ve been in wastepaper”

The plot of this novella surrounds a solitary man named Hanta. He is a paper crusher in a totalitarian state. His daily business surrounds collecting and destroying books.

“I compact wastepaper, and when I press the green button the wall of my press advances, and when I press the red button it retreats, thereby describing a basic motion of the world, like the bellows of a concertina, like a circle, which must return to its point of departure” (28).

Despite the destructive nature of his job, Hanta desires knowledge and collects rare, banned books from the waste bins awaiting the flames.

Hanta yearns for the written word:

“Because when I read, I don’t really read; I pop a beautiful sentence into my mouth and suck it like a fruit drop, or I sip it like a liqueur until the thought dissolves in me like alcohol, infusing brain and heart and coursing on through the veins to the root of each blood vessel” (1-2).

Hanta’s thirst for knowledge leaves him in a continuous orbit within his own head. This fact is artistically portrayed with vivid metaphors and symbolism throughout the book.

“It never ceased to amaze me, until suddenly one day I felt beautiful and holy for having had the courage to hold on to my sanity after all I’d seen and been through, body and soul, in too loud a solitude, and slowly I came to the realization that my work was hurtling me headlong into an infinite field of omnipotence” (53).

Perhaps Hanta’s retreat into his psyche represents a coping mechanism for his thirty-five years mind-numbing work. Perhaps he just wants to distance himself from the actions of his job he regrets. Ultimately, Hanta’s work, itself, acts as a metaphor for life.

“Not until we’re totally crushed do we show what we are made of” (94).

We do our best to gain knowledge. We do our best with whatever circumstances we are given. But only in the intense pressure of life do we really know who we are.

Holding Up to Expectations

I get why people hold Too Loud a Solitude in high regard. The writing is flawless, the premise is intriguing, and the metaphors about life are vivid. But the book just can’t hold up to the expectations I had for it. I wanted it to be the best reading experienced I had ever encountered, and it didn’t live up to that lofty position.

The book is ethereal and epigrammatic. It is well worth anyone’s time. Just don’t walk into the experience expecting the world to change.

Verdict: 3.5 out of 5

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