On the Eve

By Ivan Turgenev.

This was a reread and I liked it as much second time around almost twenty years after the first time.

I couldn’t remember the ending but I think it ended well – from a novelistic point of view (not necessarily for the characters). You find yourself drawn into the machinations and the characters, Turgenev is a master of the insular within a context.

There was much to consider. I like this paragraph:

‘Have you noticed,’ began Bersenyev, eking out his words with gesticulations, ‘what a strange feeling nature produces in us? Everything in nature is so complete, so defined, I mean to say, so content with itself, and we understand that and admire it, and at the same time, in me at least, it always excites a kind of restlessness, a kind of uneasiness, even melancholy. What is the meaning of it? Is it that in the face of nature we are more vividly conscious of all our incompleteness, our indefiniteness, or have we little of that content with which nature is satisfied, but something else–I mean to say, what we need, nature has not?’

 

 

 

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The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle

By Tobias Smollett.

This was an absolutely brilliant and amusing read. It twisted and turned as Peregrine matured and immatured, traveled, fought duels, learnt lessons, caused havoc, fell in and out of love and generally encapsulated many aspects of the human experience. Smollett is a writer you don’t hear much of. Maybe, his books are too easy to read and are passed over in favour of Sterne and Tristram Shandy. But, there is much to be entertained by in this novel – and the scenes stay with you leaving you to consider them, but only if you feel inclined. Smollett also translated Gil Blas and Don Quixote – so you can see where his influences lie.

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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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The Galley Slave

By Drago Jančar.

If this novel had been published first in Britain or had Jančar lived in the west this wouldn’t have been published – no publisher would have had a punt on it – as it probably wouldn’t have sold. This would be a tragedy for literature and this is symptomatic of the control marketing (and the shifting of units with the least possible effort) has on on the creative industries in the UK. What a great book. It is dark, challenging, imaginative, amusing, bleak and many other vicarious elements. Jančar is a special writer and this is exactly the kind of book I like – it defies definition. Stasiuk makes reference to Jančar in one of his novels, I realised after I read this – so good writers lead to good writers. This novel is still in gestation, and all the elements it includes – Ot is an intriguing character and symbol. Following is a quote regarding Slovenian literature – I believe it came from Dalkey Archive.

Literature means different things to different people. For past generations of Slovenians, many of the books in the list below provided flesh to their growing minds and bodies during a time of scarcity and censorship. These novels were as essential to them as food. To the current generation of savvy, traveling, computer-literate Slovenians, and of course to foreign readers as well, these same books are not lifeblood: now they must succeed as mere words, as mere art.

And here is the List:

http://www.dalkeyarchive.com/collections/slovenia/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Virgin Soil

By Ivan Turgenev.

One thing I like about Turgenev is that it is like renewing an acquaintance or conversation whenever you return him. With most of his work he never clearly comes down on one side something he was criticised for regularly. I think this is a real strength, he presents ideas, characters and situations and leaves it to the reader. This novel directly deals with the revolutionary networks in Russia in the 1870s. He presents the young revolutionaries in a sympathetic light but also brings to light contradictions, namely that most of them are of the middle class and as such they can’t relate to the working people. There are exceptions though in every case – but Turgenev poses the question. He is unsparing in his criticism of the right-wing reactionaries however – Kollomietzev is exposed warts and all but the obviously right-wing mayor is shown as a decent man. Turgenev is equivocal. This old saying was quite apt: “Moscow lies at the foot of Russia and everything rolls down to her” – you could substitute it with London and Britain, possibly.

 

 

 

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Sulamyth

By Alexandr Kuprin.
I wasn’t sure about this to begin with but it ended up quite an engaging little story. The translation was fine and for a few hours I was transported to a very different world: one of wise rulers, poetry and intrigue. Very different to the previous Kuprin I read – the Duel. The sumptuous, fantastical nature of the story was an interesting juxtaposition to what I have read recently. This was few pence on the Kindle store – well worth it.

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Trips to the Moon

By Lucian of Samosata.

I loved this little book. Very Rabelaisian – or perhaps ‘Rabelaisian’ should be renamed ‘Samosatian’. What an imagination. There’s much that we lose here as many of the references that Lucian makes are to works that have not survived from his heyday – around AD125. Still, well worth reading. This made me chuckle:

The campaign thus happily finished, they made an entertainment to celebrate the victory, which, as is usual amongst them, was a bean- feast. Pythagoras alone absented himself on that day, and fasted, holding in abomination the wicked custom of eating beans.

 

 

 

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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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Gargantua and Pantagruel – Book Two

By François Rabelais.

Book Two is right up there with Book One however it is more linear. Part of what I liked about Book One was that it wasn’t dictated to by the story. The story was told, but chapters were sometimes ever increasing tangents. Book Two is far more straightforward as each chapter follows the other – the absurdity is within the episodes themselves. Frère Jean is a fantastic creation – a warrior ex-monk is search of the divine in a bottle:

But from good wine you can’t make bad Latin.
 

In Book Two you meet comic genius mixed with a sublime imagination and ideas. Rabelais is a revelation.

 

 

 

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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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