The Master and Margarita

 

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By Mikhail Bulgakov

This was a re-read as I was travelling to Moscow and wanted to see the city with Bulgakov’s eye. Patriarch Pond was pleasant and I waited for Woland there but there was no stall selling warm apricot juice, and no malevolent cat nearby. A magnificent novel. I think I enjoyed it most on this, the third, read.

“With a groan Ivan looked ahead and saw the hated stranger. He had already reached the exit leading on to Patriarch’s Street and he was no longer alone. The weird choirmaster had managed to join him. But that was not all. The third member of the company was a cat the size of a pig, black as soot and with luxuriant cavalry officers’ whiskers. The threesome was walking towards Patriarch’s Street, the cat trotting along on its hind legs.”

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Invitation to a Beheading and Despair

By Vladimir Nabokov.

Two very different novels. Despair has plot and psychology and it feels more like Nabokov even though Invitation to a Beheading was written later and has what can be described with the benefit of hindsight ‘Kafkaesque’ elements. Both are strong and excellent reads with much to think about. Nabokov was well in his stride in these mid-thirties novels (both in age and decade).

 

 

 

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The Spectre of Alexander Wolf

By Gaito Gazdanov.

Thoroughly enjoyable. I was going to say that nothing else has been translated – but there do seem to be more novels recently translated and some scheduled for release. They will be read.

“You are beginning to live. Taking part in what is called the struggle for life lies ahead of you. Roughly speaking, there are three types: the struggle for victory, the struggle for annihilation, and the struggle for consensus. You are all young and full of vigour, and so, naturally, you are drawn to the first type. But always remember that the most humane and most advantageous is the struggle for consensus. If you make of this a principle throughout your life, it will mean that the culture we have tried to bestow on you will not have been for nothing, that you have become true citizens of the world, and, consequently, we shall not have lived in this world in vain. Because, if it be otherwise, it will mean that we have merely wasted our time. We are old, we have no more strength to build a new life. We have one hope left, and that is you.”

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The Name of the Rose

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By Umberto Eco.

Quite a pleasant read. I learnt much about schisms and intrigue in the middle age church. The dominant version of Christianity that survived seems quite random. It could have been very different if one of the sects had taken control.

“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors.”

 

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Cendrars Quatrain

By David J. MacKinnon.

 Quite enjoyable. A larger-than-life novel in the vein of Celine / Cendrars. I don’t know how much of Fingon is MacKinnon. Entertaining.

I will be a man fulfilled if, when my time comes,
I can disappear anonymously and without regret,
At the originating point of our world, the Sargasso Sea,
Where life first burst from the depths of the ocean floor towards the sun.

[Cendrars]

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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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Dark Domain

By Stefan Grabinski.

Grabinski is definitely a little-known Polish writer; several erudite Polish people I polled had never heard of him. These stories were great: full of supernatural tension with a good dose of introspection and the surreal. Well worth reading. I was captivated all the way through and there is a well-formed psychological base to the stories. Three of them also use train travel to great effect, a drama being played out while outside everything is movement is a good idea and it works brilliantly. Grabinski was an outsider and his lead characters are as well. Many of the endings are ambiguous and could be used as entry into a longer story, possibly. To try and write this could be an interesting exercise.

It doesn’t look like any novels have been translated into English and the foreword is a little dismissive of them as it seems Grabinski moved into more mystical material. I wouldn’t mind reading some more.

 

 

 

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The Golem

By Gustav Meyrink.

This great poster from the 1979 Polish movie ‘The Golem’ is by Franciszek Starowieyski – I am going to have to try and track the movie down, though I believe it has a different plot to the book. There is also a silent movie version that I will watch by Wegener – I will post an update later on this.

Meyrinks’s novel – what a book. In very general terms it was a cross between Hamsun’s ‘Hunger’ and Edgar Allen Poe with a bit of Kafka mixed in there too. Apparently Kafka and Meyrink were acquainted. It is very sinister, dreamlike, filled with atmosphere but also with a great deal of introspection. You, the reader, are left to figure out what the twists in plot mean along with the symbolism and ultimately at the end you have to draw your own conclusions.

Sometimes, when you are left wondering at the end of a book you can assume it is a device of the writer when he or she hasn’t quite worked out how to finish it. In this case, I believe there are a few ways of seeing the end and that this was by design. The questions posed throughout the book can possibly be resolved, but only if you choose to and never with any certainty. The Golem is a backdrop – he was created out of Jewish mysticism but was always only a product and not a source in itself. The larger story in the novel is based around the psychological and spiritual experiences of Athanasius Pernath and the characters that he comes in contact with. The intrusion of the anonymous narrator at the end opens things up – the story expands into the wider world.

I don’t want to give anymore away. It is definitely recommended. Oh, and the translation by Mike Mitchell reads very well.

Soundtrack: ‘Ghost Boy’ by Widowspeak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Girl With The Golden Eyes

By Honoré de Balzac.

This novel must have been shocking in its day. It can be seen as an absolute indictment of the dissolute Parisian life of the upper classes in the 19th century. I say ‘absolute’ as there are no positive characters apart from apects of Paquita and she is not Parisian. The first chapter doesn’t gives any plot, it is a monologue by the narrator about the corruption of Paris and how all the various classes are grappling with each other for social advancement at any price. At the time I wondered what was going on, but by the novel’s  end I thought it had set the things up nicely.

This is a free text which is in the public domain and can be listened to as an audiobook at Librivox.org or at Open Library. The translated language did seem a little dated which combined with some overly passionate reading on the audiobook did make me cringe at times. Still, it was entertaining and the twist is great. The themes of vice and love foiled by chance are timeless.

Soundtrack: Cinerama – Comedienne.

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