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 perhap
s 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 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.


  1. It was my pleasure to "borrow" the i heart huckabees logo for you - I'm only sorry it took me so long to get around to!

  2. First Russian book was "Kashtanka" by Chekhov, then Taras Bulbas and Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, then I think "We" by Zamyatin, then "Quietly flows the Don" by Sholokhov. The most recent Russian fiction I have read was "Dead Souls" by Gogol.

    Thank you for the definition of "novella" too.

    Dark Puss

  3. The only Russian book I've read is One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovitch by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and that was when I was on something of a Russian interest streak after covering the Soviet revolution in A-Level History. It's interesting, and holds itself together well as a narrative, but good grief it's bleak. I suppose that's what you get for setting a novel in a gulag on the Siberian plains.

  4. I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't read any of the major Russian writers. I'll have to remedy that soon! Thanks for the gentle reminder.

  5. My reading history is also lacking when it comes to Russian lit (though I did tackle War and Peace last year, so perhaps that makes up for it?). I did read the Brothers K in high school, however. I'm hoping to read Anna Karenina this year. Perhaps I'll have to give this Dostoevsky a try as well.

  6. I had a great passion for Tolstoy (beginning with War and Peace)during my teenage years, but I haven't been back to him for ages.

  7. I just found your blog and was hoping for the rest of the 50 Books list. I recognize some of the names but can't say that I have read any. You seem to be an astute reader. Not many your age these days care for books of any kind, let alone the variety you post about. Thank you for sharing the knowledge you do have with someone who is interested in adding to their reading realm.

  8. Hi Wendy, lovely to have you here!
    I'm afraid the 50 Books list is a work in progress, I add a new one every now and then, but haven't decided upon them all just yet. If you have any you'd like to suggest, that would be very welcome!


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