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Bohumil Hrabal: Tanecní hodiny pro starsí a pokrocilé (Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age)

I’m not quite sure of the point of this novel. It is just over a hundred pages long but is told in one breathless sentence. It is the monologue of an old man – former shoemaker, brewer, soldier and a few other things – who is talking to six sunbathing beauties who work in pubs and bars and telling them about his life, about sex and marriage, about politics and history and about life in general. He outlines his various sexual conquests – it seems that there are numerous women who have wanted to have sex with him/marry him. He tells us about his prowess as a shoemaker – the engineer of human feet (recalling Skvorecky‘s The Engineer of Human Souls). He tells us that, despite his weak heart, the army welcomed him as a soldier and how a doctor in the army had worked out that he was too supersensitive for matrimony. He talks about aspects of Czech history, anti-Semitism, suicides (several people he mentioned kill themselves in various ways, though usually by hanging), liverwurst and alcohol, sexual hygiene, religion (which he sees as restricting his sexual activities), army life, Egon Bondy (who was a friend of Hrabal) and did I mention sex? It is certainly amusing (but not much more) and maybe it is much funnier in Czech but in English, it frankly left me disappointed.

Publishing history

First published by Ceskoslovenský spisovatel in 1964
First published in English by Harcourt Brace in 1995
Translated by Michael Henry Heim