I Served The King of England – Bohumil Hrabal

As I mentioned earlier today last night was the monthly meet up of book lovers and book bloggers in the London area for Book Group. This month’s choice had been one whose title and author I had never heard of. However ‘I Served The King of England’ by Bohumil Hrabal did make it into the 1001 books that you must read that the Guardian did a while back. So I was looking forward to a new author who I had read nothing by before. I was also looking forward to reading something by a Czech author, another first.

I Served The King of England is the tale of Ditie who at a young age starts the only career path available as a waiter in the Golden Prague Hotel (which isn’t actually in Prague) and then follow his life as he goes from servant to served and becomes a millionaire. In the process we see through his eyes how the rich Czech people live leading up to the war, a life of gluttony and prostitutes in the main (the book is quite explicit for the delicate of mind out there) and then the change as war reigns and the German’s come and take over.

I actually found that when the Germans invaded in some ways the book really came to life. Ditie becomes a German sympathiser, something not written about in many books which is very interesting if occasionally difficult to read, after he falls in love with and after being approved by the relevant bodies marries. This book for me was fantastically written and was darkly comic and the book sort of came alive after the first half of the book which seemed to just follow Ditie as he went about his daily business and observed all these rich people and became obsessed with joining them.

What of the plot? It’s very much a straight forward, though quirky, rags to riches and back to rags tale. That isn’t giving too much away as it is written on the blurb and there are a few random twists and events (dark and deeply funny) along the way. What about characters? There is a plethora of characters cast in this book but you never really get to know them they may pop up again from time to time but what motivates them and who they are eludes you slightly and I felt that could also be added to the main character himself.

I never really got under Ditie’s skin, I still by the end didn’t really know anything about him before he started waiting and what made him tick. Well apart from money and sex. He is a slight loner and unlike other books where the loner gives you their internal thoughts Ditie never really gives anything away. It left me leaving the book feeling like I liked it and yet didn’t like it all at once which very rarely happens to me. Maybe now I have finished it and the book and I spend some time apart it will grow on me as others have, or not. Strangely though I would read Bohumil Hrabal again despite my fuzzy grey thoughts on the book (not sitting on the fence), after all anyone who can make me whizz through a book with no paragraphs must be doing something right!

The book groups feelings were mixed too you can see Novel Insights and Paperback Reader’s, whose choice it was, Kimbofo and soon to be member Books Snob’s thoughts (when more members pop their thoughts up will let you know) on the book. As I said I would read him again, this book just left me feeling very nonplussed and I like things to be black and white not grey and this has left me in a grey fuzz. Have any books done that to you? Have you read any other Hrabal you’d recommend?

12 Comments

Filed under Bohumil Hrabal, Book Group, Review, Vintage Classics

12 responses to “I Served The King of England – Bohumil Hrabal

  1. I didn’t like it as much as you! It started off funny but then after he married Lise I just didn’t enjoy it. Not really my cup of tea!

    My review is up over on Book Snob.

  2. So did you rent the movie?

  3. The plethora of characters and overly descriptive style (mentioned a lot last night) are things that I didn’t actually notice I think because of reading it straight on the back of The Children’s Book that had the largest cast of characters and insane amount of superfluous detail that I have ever come across. Apologies for yet another reference to it but I’m still livid!

    A number of books have left me feeling vexed nd it is only upon further reflection, sometimes far in the future that I decide upon how I actually felt about it.

  4. I’m trying to track down the DVD… although the synopsis on wikipedia sounds a little different to the book.

  5. novelinsights

    Oh I really wish I’d been there now, I find it really interesting when people have very mixed views on a book – but you know how contrary I am!

    • Hahahaha I do indeed. Sadly I felt (and this is only my opinion) that it made the discussion harder as we all felt a bit ‘meh’ about it and didnt have so much to say… and you know I always have lots of things I could spout!

  6. Pingback: Bohumil Hrabal’s I Served The King of England: Book Group 4 « Novel Insights

  7. Please read Too Loud A Solitude by Hrabal. One of the best.
    His stories are all about the grey, the feeling of not belonging to either black or white, but in the middle.
    It creates the idea in the reader that we ourselves are not always one sided, but mostly in the middle.

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