Chess and Journey into the Past

By Stefan Zweig.

Two short novels. Chess was the first bit of writing I had read by Zweig – having found him by mentions on the Pushkin press website and the fact he wrote a biography of Balzac. The novella was excellent  and I followed it closely with Journey into the Past. Both were lyrical, melancholy, and filled with the past and reminiscences. The framework was a touch trite for these – but the strength of the evocation meant I was happy to let it go. Something in these reminded me of Nabokov – probably the appreciation of the backward gaze. And, the chess theme.

 

 

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King Candaules AND The Mummy’s Foot

By Théophile Gautier.

Two surreal and magical short pieces – perfect to break up some of the non-fiction I have read recently. Gautier is a more decadent and fantastical Balzac – and maybe not as much of a polymath. Having read Gautier years back I am tempted to read his travels in Egypt – he did write a fair bit – I saw a 22 volume set of his works online recently. So, worth some continued investigation. These were both excellent.

 

 

 

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A Drama on the Seashore

By Honoré de Balzac.

Quite a strange short tale – two stories in one, really. I’m not sure if this based on something Balzac heard and that the writer in tale who hears the story is in fact him. It could be timely to read a biography of him. It may shed some light on some of his work. Andre Maurois wrote something I believe.

A very tragic novella dealing with extremes of human emotion and relations, and framed perfectly in a walk the writer and his lover take on the seashore. Exquisitely done. Again, another story that stays with you.

 

 

 

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The Letter Killers Club

By Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky.

This was an intense and intelligent read. I can’t help but wonder if Gombrowicz, with his obsession with form, read Krhizhanovsky even though this is unlikely as Krzhizhanovsky was largely unpublished. There are I believe many more novels and stories that are waiting in the wings to be translated. So many unusual images and great ideas, and imaginative ways of illustrating ideas and concepts are contained here. I also wonder about Krzhizhanovsky’s name as he was born to Polish parents in Kiev – and both his first name and surname have been made into a Russian derivation. Did he change these to fit into a Moscow society where being of Polish origin rendered you suspect? There are some great passages in this book. I enjoyed it much more than the previous collection I read – due mostly to the fact I prefer an immersive novel. Or,  there was a connection with his voice here for some reason or other.

 

 

 

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Study of a Woman and The Elixir of Life

By Honoré de Balzac.

Another two brief stories. The Elixir of Life is based on a Hoffman story about Don Juan that Balzac advises never made it into his collected works and so he has no qualms of conscience in borrowing. This omission may have been rectified by now. The story is more magical and fantastic that what Balzac usually writes. It is very intriguing and melancholy though. Study of a Woman contains characters from some of Balzac’s other novels. It is a snapshot of an episode that may occur in one of his full books. In the Elixir of Life Balzac references Rabelais which apparently he does in more than twenty of his novels:

…eyes were growing dull, and drunkenness, in Rabelais’ phrase, had “taken possession of them down to their sandals.”

 

 

 

 

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Rudin

By Ivan Turgenev.

This is thought one of Turgenev’s lesser works but I found it very engaging. The Characters were all very well drawn and there were some great lines:

A man who has lived and has not grown tolerant towards others does not deserve to meet with tolerance himself. And who can say he does not need tolerance?

The figure of Rudin should be much more well-known in lierature – a man of intellect and potential with the inability to act. Maybe not exactly the type of the ‘superfluous man’ but similar.

 

 

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The Village

By Ivan Bunin.

This novel had a real atmosphere to it and I was really reminded of Platonov. The characters just drift along and many details are given which don’t seem to add up to anything in the long run but you enjoy them because they are rich, and also interesting in what they mean and how they interact with all the other events and detail. Like a tapestry – though I could be over-egging things with the metaphor. This type of novel seems to mirror life much more so than the traditional narrative arc which we take for granted in our films, TV and books. This novel was still very satisfying but the goal wasn’t the end point, it was the narrative and your attention to it. The mood and the characters developed were quite something. Bunin was a master who you hardly hear about in the Russian literary canon (probably due to his exile in the west). So, canons should be ignored.

 

 

 

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Russian Fairy Tales

By Ivan Bilibin and Alexandr Afanasev.

Great fairy tales with fantastic illustrations by Bilibin. Digitally, only a couple of pounds from iBooks or Amazon. I did see this on eBay for £400. Tempting. Some of these tales I have read before and very interesting are those which are variations.

 

 

 

 

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The Created Legend

Reading this novel is an example of the usefulness of the Kindle. This book hasn’t been republished in English it seems and the translation I downloaded from openlibrary.org was a hundred years old. It was quite engaging but seemed a little dated. I’m not sure if this was the translation or that if decadent symbolism was very much of its time. Maybe a combination of both. The novel was part magical, part pastoral and also political. The fact it was three quite dissimilar things was one of the reasons I liked it and carried on reading.

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Moscow

By Andrey Platonov.

It is the second time I have read Happy Moscow; though, this is a new translation. The novel really does have the most unique and unusual atmosphere – in the same vein as ‘Soul’. This was  unfinished and so it is likely that there would have been a substantial amount of changes.

Platonov moves his prose about as though it is a socialist realist movie camera. He follows minor characters for a while, who often never reappear, and then latches on to another character as they come in contact. I really wonder where the novel would have ended up had it been finished.

Reading this book made want to learn Russian. I want to see how exactly how the strange atmosphere is invoked and compare this to Pushkin with his French sentence structure, and Lermontov. The linear way the novel moves from one character to another is similar to reading habits: one writer leads to another and you follow them for a while until you catch another, sometimes they lead back to the original author but you were changed by the writers you followed in-between – and then you follow another. ‘Soul’ remains my favourite Platonov followed by the stories in ‘The Return’. I have a new translation of ‘The Foundation Pit’ and so will re-read that in the next while.

I really need to understand exactly how Platonov creates such an atmosphere in his strange world. In the mean-time here is a picture by Malevich which is a window into Platonov’s ‘Soul’ novel.

 

 

 

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