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Bohumil Hrabal

James Wood: The life, times, letters and politics of Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal, 4 January 2001

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Harvill, 103 pp., £6.99, May 1998, 1 86046 215 4
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Too Loud a Solitude 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Michael Henry Heim.
Abacus, 112 pp., £6.99, May 1997, 0 349 10262 7
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I Served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Picador, 256 pp., £6.99, May 1990, 0 330 30876 9
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Closely Observed Trains 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Edith Partiger.
Abacus, 128 pp., £5.99, May 1990, 0 349 10125 6
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Total Fears: Letters to Dubenka 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by James Naughton.
Twisted Spoon Press, 203 pp., $13.50, June 1998, 80 902171 9 2
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... great things. Such are the goods packed in a typical comic sentence by the great Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal, who died in 1997. The character relieving himself of this little confession is a garrulous cobbler, who admits to being ‘an admirer of the European Renaissance’, and is the narrator of Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age. But many of ...

Goofing Off

Michael Hofmann: Hrabal’s Categories, 21 July 2022

All My Cats 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Penguin, 96 pp., £7.99, August 2020, 978 0 241 42219 9
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... Things​ have not gone quiet around the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal, even though he has been dead since February 1997, when he defenestrated himself from the fifth floor of a Prague hospital, à la mode tchèque. There were some no doubt well-meaning reports that he had fallen while trying to feed the pigeons, but these should be discounted ...

Blooming Symbols

Adam Lively, 27 May 1993

Dr Haggard’s Disease 
by Patrick McGrath.
Viking, 180 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 670 85195 7
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by James Hamilton-Paterson.
Cape, 238 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 9780224037174
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... The Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal recently argued that great literature has no need of symbols: it simply presents life as it is. A symbol in a novel can act like a leech on a living body, sucking the imaginative reality from it. I am talking here not of a smattering of metaphorical language at the micro-level (as in the previous sentence), but of the way in which artsy modernist writers (it’s amazingly easy to start sounding like Sir Kingsley Amis once you start following this line of thought) load their novels with pretentious structures of symbolism instead of getting on with the business of telling stories about ‘life as it is ...


A.J.P. Taylor: A historian writes for fun, 19 May 1983

... it a few days ago. It is incomparable in its simplicity. The original story is by a Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal. It should certainly be translated into English. It does not diminish its grandeur that there was very little sabotage by the Czechs during the Second World War. It is very rare for me to see a film and even rarer to see two quite close ...

Silent as a Fire Alarm

Emily Berry: Selima Hill, 6 October 2022

Men Who Feed Pigeons 
by Selima Hill.
Bloodaxe, 157 pp., £12.99, September 2021, 978 1 78037 586 1
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... is Hill’s twentieth collection. It takes its title from an odd detail about the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, who ‘fell to his death from a hotel balcony, while apparently feeding the pigeons’, as Hill related in an interview last year: ‘They always, always, always say … “apparently” … That’s interesting and sad.’ Much turns on how ...

In Service

Anthony Thwaite, 18 May 1989

The Remains of the Day 
by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Faber, 245 pp., £10.99, May 1989, 0 571 15310 0
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I served the King of England 
by Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Paul Wilson.
Chatto, 243 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 0 7011 3462 3
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Beautiful Mutants 
by Deborah Levy.
Cape, 90 pp., £9.95, May 1989, 0 224 02651 8
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When the monster dies 
by Kate Pullinger.
Cape, 173 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 9780224026338
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The Colour of Memory 
by Geoff Dyer.
Cape, 228 pp., £11.95, May 1989, 0 224 02585 6
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Sexual Intercourse 
by Rose Boyt.
Cape, 160 pp., £10.95, May 1989, 0 224 02666 6
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The Children’s Crusade 
by Rebecca Brown.
Picador, 121 pp., £10.95, March 1989, 0 330 30529 8
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... Almost, at times, the Fool. Ishiguro’s Prufrock is a memorable portrait of futility. Bohumil Hrabal’s little Prague waiter is a much more lightweight servant in every sense. I served the King of England is a freewheeling journey through Bohemia and Magical Realism, and also – in the most flippant and irreverent way – through Czech ...

The Art-House Crowd

Daniel Soar: Svetislav Basara’s fictions, 5 May 2005

Chinese Letter 
by Svetislav Basara, translated by Ana Lucic.
Dalkey Archive, 132 pp., £7.99, January 2005, 9781564783745
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... a ‘secret society of bicyclists’ which includes – those I’ve heard of – Mircea Eliade, Bohumil Hrabal, Eugène Ionesco, Eddy Merckx, Slobodan Milosevic´, Gavrilo Princip, Jozef Skvorecki, Tsvetan Todorov and, perplexingly, Alexis Carrington from Dynasty. These names speak to those in the know, with a complicated take on the obsession that ...

Puffed Wheat

James Wood: How serious is John Bayley?, 20 October 2005

The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays 1962-2002 
by John Bayley, selected by Leo Carey.
Duckworth, 677 pp., £25, March 2005, 0 7156 3312 0
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... and purposes’. (The Kundera-Austen coupling is one of several bizarre marriages in this book; Bohumil Hrabal would surely have offered the obvious alternative to Kundera: natural, comic, unself-conscious and Czech.) Betjeman, Wodehouse, Austen, Anthony Powell and Larkin are all examples, for Bayley, of this kind of evasive magic, which is opposed ...


James Wood: John Carey, 8 March 2001

Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books 
by John Carey.
Faber, 173 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 571 20448 1
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... Pirandello, and of Pavese’s novels; or of Dreiser’s Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy; of Bohumil Hrabal; of Christina Stead; of Henry Green’s Loving; or of V.S. Pritchett’s short stories – Pritchett, who was told by H.G. Wells in the 1930s that the working classes could not be written about without comedy and condescension. All these ...

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