By Tatyana Tolstaya.
What a fantastic novel. This is the best contemporary thing I have read for ages. I don’t usually go go in for dystopian fiction, though, I once tried to read a book by Marge Piercy and it was amateurish and awful. The Slynx was brilliant. The world is ridiculous but it is believable – if that makes any sense. With other futuristic writers, phrases or ideas not being fully formed can give the game away and you lose that sense of being catapulted. Additionally, Tolstaya makes some very good points and analyses the authoritarian state, how it keeps control, the role of the workers, intelligentsia and literature. A review said it was ‘Pale Fire’ like but I am not convinced. There’s not as much of a metafiction element in the Slynx and the role of authority isn’t analysed as deeply in Pale Fire – at least to my reading.
Another point that I didn’t consider until finishing was that I don’t read many female writers. This is something I have thought about before but I try to just let the purchase and reading of books flow naturally with random elements determining the direction my reading goes. It seems a little prescriptive to say that I am now going to read female writers for the next six months and that is all; rather than reading that which I find randomly and which interests me. Over the last year out of fifty-two books I only read four by women writers. I know, it is not a good statistic (you can see other stats on the new ‘statistics’ tab). But I also read only one American writer. Does this mean I should read more American writers – should I attempt to be egalitarian with choice of books or should I let one novel point to another? An example of this is that Tolstaya quotes a lot from Pushkin – as a result I am now reading Eugene Onegin which I have owned for a while, but after reading the Slynx the time felt right and I started reading it naturally. Maybe I am placing too much store on randomness and letting the novels I read pose questions or a direction?
So, why don’t I read as much female literature? Well, firstly I don’t really think about literature as ‘male’ or ‘female’ they are just books and I read those that interest me. Secondly, I don’t read much contemporary stuff. A lot of modern novels seem to try a little too hard and because of the increased commercialisation and control of the publishing by big companies much of modern fiction is just too bland, obvious and it is created simply to be sold. It just doesn’t interest me. There are still fantastic new novels as The Slynx proves, but because of the mass of publishing out there it is difficult to find what is good. Because women really didn’t have the same opportunities as men there are not as many older female writers. I have read Murasaki, Shonagen, Woolf, Austin, Mansfield, Nin, McCullers and others that I can’t remember off the top of my head – Sagan, Sarraute, de Beauvoir too. But there are not as many women who wrote and were published in the time periods I read compared to men. And, I don’t like many modern writers generally – never mind the sex of the writer.
Coming back to The Slynx… it was very powerful and Tostaya’s voice strong, assured and believable. I will read her collection of short stories at some stage. Very pleased I read this – it gives me hope – there are still great and interesting works of fiction being created.
Actually, when I compare the contemporary writers I like, 50% of them are female.
Sountrack: Enio Morricone – Rivoluzione.