Academic journal article European Comic Art

The Silence of the Page: Une Trop Bruyante Solitude: The Graphic Novel Adaptation of Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

Academic journal article European Comic Art

The Silence of the Page: Une Trop Bruyante Solitude: The Graphic Novel Adaptation of Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article discusses the issues faced by two French artists who have produced a bande dessinée adaptation of a novel, Prílis hlucná samota ['Too Loud a Solitude'], by the Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, and the reception of their work in the Czech comics community. In adapting the novel to another medium, the artists have not merely illustrated the original, but have used a variety of techniques intended to convey its emotional coloration and its self-referentiality. Furthermore, they have changed its context from Prague during the Communist era to twenty-first-century Lyon at a time when the jobs of print workers are threatened by out-sourcing. The article argues that the adaptation thereby enhances the contemporary resonance of the original.

In the Czech Republic, the works of Bohumil Hrabal, who is considered a folkhero in his native country, have been adapted by director Jirí Menzel into several successful films, including Postriziny ['Cutting it Short'] (1981), Skrivánci na niti ['Larks on a String'] (1990), and Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále ['I Served the King of England'] (2006). The most famous adaptation of Hrabal's work is surely Ostre sledované vlaky ['Closely Watched Trains'] (1966), which won the Oscar for best foreign film in 1967. The plot concerns Hrabal's charming antihero, Milos Hrma, a railway dispatcher during the Second World War, who only gains the confidence to commit an act of sabotage against the Nazis after he has fulfilled his urgent quest to lose his virginity. Prílis hlucná samota ['Too Loud a Solitude'], composed between 1972 and 1976, is a much more sombre work, which could not be published during the period of normalisation under the Husák regime.1 This slim novella, circulated in samizdat, appeared in French (1983) and in English translation (1986), but was only released in the Czech Republic in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution.2 Despite the numerous film adaptations of Hrabal's fiction, it had occurred to no one to adapt his writing into comics form until French writer Lionel Tran was so enchanted with the novella that he proposed the project to his collaborators, artist Ambre (Laurent Sautet) and photographer Valérie Berge, in 1998. Une trop bruyante solitude ['Too Loud a Solitude'] (2003), the adaptation developed by Tran, Ambre and Berge over a period of five years, admirably captures some of the formal and thematic concerns of the original.3

Although there is a tradition of Czech comic strips that extends back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the idea that comics merit attention as a serious art form is relatively new in the Czech Republic.4 Reviews of Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's From Hell and Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Boy on Earth are just beginning to appear in respected literary journals, such as Tvar and Host, and Thierry Groensteen's Systcme de la bande dessinée was published in translation in 2005;5 the Czech edition of the graphic novel, Une trop bruyante solitude, appeared the same year. The French artists' decision to adapt a famous work by one of the Czech Republic's most beloved authors was bold and unconventional, to say the least, and presents a number of fascinating questions concerning form, translation and cultural context. The purpose of this article is to describe the literary characteristics of the novella and to analyse how the artists incorporate these qualities into the graphic novel, while according special attention to problems of translation. Hrabal's writing is notoriously difficult to translate due to his penchant for inventing words and for using highly specific colloquial language. To conclude, I will consider how this adaptation offers a new interpretation of Hrabal's original work, given its setting in Lyon, France at the turn of the twenty-first century. Too Loud a Solitude has generally been understood as a criticism of censorship under the communist regime and a reference to the reality of 1970s Czechoslovakia, when intellectuals were demoted to menial jobs if they were judged not to be sufficiently loyal to the party. …

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