This first book is quite cohesive. I guess Rabelais didn’t know himself if he would write another and the impetus seems to be his own amusement and that of his friends. This was a very enjoyable experience and as a result I took my time reading Book One. I like the way the episodes aren’t really connected they just sort of flit about and are not as linear as most novels.
Pantagruel makes you laugh, consider things philosophically and stimulates the imagination: it doesn’t get much better than this. I can now see where many of the writers I love got a great deal of their inspiration. There were free translations I could have found for the kindle but I decided that if I was going to make the effort to read all five books then it should be with the best translation – by most accounts Professor Screech’s translation is the best. There are many footnotes – but they don’t get in the way as the book is the kind that stimulates you in bursts as it is all angles and the footnotes don’t interfere but add to the richness of the text. The rest are coming up shortly.
This is the first ‘The Duel’ in a series of duel novellas that I recently purchased from Melville House Publishing. It’s a great idea to collate a series of linked novels in this way. What is also very good about this set is that each book has additional materials added, which either relate to duels or is biographical – there are even newspaper reports from the dueling heyday. This extra material makes these well worth getting. Too often it seems publishers simply republish old novels with just a new introduction – there often isn’t even a new translation. Someone has taken the time to collate all this extra information and this set really is the stronger because of it.
Chekhov’s Duel is an interesting novella. As I read it, I couldn’t help but keep comparing Laevsky (Chekhov’s superflous man – not to be confused with Pushkin’s, Lermontov’s, Turgenev’s and Goncharov’s) with Lermontov’s Pechorin specifically. It seems that Pechorin was railing against nothing specific – just existence, whereas in Chekhov’s Duel the the opponent was Von Koren. Von Koren was an exponent of Nietsche and Darwinism and is the mouthpiece for several of the ideas that were prevalent at this time, Laevsky, as the supposed superfluous man, is anathema to him. The strange thing is that Chekhov’s novel (written 50 years after Lermontov) feels more dated than ‘A Hero of our Time’. The structure is more traditional and you have these very clear opposing forces with a redemptive aspect at the end. The Tsar who hated Lermontov’s novel would have been much more pleased with Chekhov’s. Lermontov’s lack of traditional structure and Pechorin’s general dissatisfaction, with unseen forces and himself, seems much more current. Included in the additional materials in Melville House’s edition is an excerpt from Lermontov and it even includes Pushkin’s short story ‘The Queen of Spades’ which is also a gripping yarn and gets better with every reread. Contemplating Chekhov’s ‘The Duel’ novella, materials, and their links was very worthwhile and it really highlighted to me the greatness of Lermontov, and his only novel, whose life was cut short by a duel.
Half-way through this book after reading six of the seven stories I thought this was ok – and only just. However the last and longest novella that makes up half the book was excellent. There were quite complex scientific principles espoused with humour and a dollop of intrigue – at least they seemed complex to me. If the ideas wern’t complex then Krzhizhanovsky did a good job of making them seem so. It’s a real pity some of the other stories are a bit patchy. Also a real pity there are no longer works like Memories of the Future in translation. There is another collection of stories but given my lack of affinity with the ones in this book I may just leave it. Should another novella appear I will definitely read it. As I said, a couple of the stories were fine but some just seemed deliberately zany with no real point to the absurdity. Absurdity can give form to a story ala Gombrowicz but here something just didn’t ring true. Perhaps I am being unfair and am happy to be persuaded otherwise if anyone has a different take on it. I might even try a re-read on some of the stories due to the strength of ‘Memories’ and its strange atmosphere. If my opinions change I will do a separate post. This is worth reading for the ‘Memories of the Future’ novella.
Soundtrack: Anything off ‘Distortion’ by the Magnetic Fields.