Wednesday, 12 March 2008
Russian Around Hesperus
Isn't this the most wonderful thing for Hesperus Week? Thank you so much Peta (aka The Bookling) for emailing it to me. I'm not sure of its provenance, but thank you to anyone else if Peta wasn't the creator, and thank you to Peta if you were!
There is still plenty of time to enter the draw for a free Hesperus book of your choice, but Hesperus Week continues with a foray into Russian territory. It was one of my most shameful literary lackings that I hadn't read any of the Russian writers - it's possible I skimmed a Chekhov once, I don't recall, and I might have read a modern Russian (or perhaps Hungarian...) but I'd not read any of the Russian Master Novelists, and that was very remiss. So when Ellie from Hesperus sent me a little bundle a while ago, I was delighted to see she included The Eternal Husband by Fyodor Dostoevsky. How did you first enter the Russian world? Or are you a stranger to it too?
Oh yes, this is what I'd always thought the Russians would be. They leap out of their chairs, they leap back as quickly - everything is exclaimed and announced, and mood swings come quicker than a pregnant acrobat. And with names like Alexei Ivanovich Velchaninov and Pavel Pavlovich Trusotsky, for what more could I ask?
I jest. Beneath these flourishes, and indeed through them, lies a touching and well-told tale of intrigue and mistrust, love and malice, innocence and memory. Velchaninov keeps noticing a man in a crepe hat following him (or is it vice versa?) and the first few chapters create an increasingly taut and haunting tension as to what this mysterious figure could want. Don't read the next paragraph if you want to keep it all a secret.
He eventually reveals himself as the husband of Velchaninov's ex-lover, and brings with him a small child. The rest of this novel/la (short only by Russian standards) presents a wavering web of the emotions between these figures, and the absent lover Natalya Vasilyevna. (On a side note, someone asked the other day for the definition of 'novella' - good question! More or less a short novel - but without the strutural singularity and unity which characterises the short story. But it is a norotiously difficult term to place.)
Occasionally frenetic, The Eternal Husband is also a thoroughly psychological.work. The blurb puts it best - Dostoevsky is 'engaging with his favoured themes of tortured minds and neurosis, and treating them in a captivating and highly revelaing way.' I didn't always find this an easy book to read, by any means, but I think it's a good 'way in' if, like me, the Russians are foreign territory for you.