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?