Eugene Onegin

feature_eugeneOneginBy Alexander Pushkin.

Wow. What an amazing novel, poem or however you categorise it. I have enjoyed Pushkin’s prose work previously but I have shied away from his poetry. This is so funny, so aware and such a good story. I love Tatyana’s dream, and the part where Pushkin remembers grasping a stirrup and thinking of his ex-lover’s foot is a laugh out loud moment.

Apparently this translation by Charles Johnstone is ‘good’ according to some commentary but others have said that Stanley Mitchell captures more of the humour and lyricism of the Russian original. So possibly I will need to purchase and read again at some stage.

Throughout you get a real sense of Pushkin’s personality. In the introduction it is mooted that Pushkin is playing a game with the story and with form and enjoying himself greatly. You can really sense this. I think that Pushkin would have been an amusing but tempestuous man to know.

Eugene Onegin completely confounded all my expectations. I didn’t expect a text that was so aware and amusing. This is definitely worth reading. It takes time to get into the language but after you do you keep reading and wanting to read as all is revealed. As to the ending – it was perfect and again I laughed out loud.

Soundtrack: anything by Bulat Okudzawa.

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The Slynx

slynxBy 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.

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Jacob’s Hands

jacobs handsBy Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood.

This was a very pleasant little fable, although the events were less than pleasurable for Jacob himself. I really enjoyed the prose of the novel and the questions it threw up in an unassuming way. There wasn’t anything big or clever about the book but it left you thinking, stroking the beard contemplatively and staring into the distance. It was very different to the Huxley I have read before – maybe it was Christopher Isherwood’s influence. I had never heard of Isherwood previously but I might take a little look at some of his books. This was a very worthwhile way to spend a few hours.

Soundtrack: Johnny Cash – Personal Jesus.

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nine2By Andrzej Stasiuk.

Nine was quite different from Fado and White Raven.Having said that – it was a good ‘different’. I saw a quote from Irvine Welsh in the usual back cover superlatives and the novel has some similarity with his work – or the tone. The book is very gritty but also surreal at times there are flights of fancy and leaps about within the narrative so you have to concentrate to make sure you really understand what is going on. Generally though, it is quite an easy read – you are drawn into the seedy Polish underworld. I’ll keep looking for books by Stasiuk. This was well worth reading.

Soundtrack: Camper Van Beethoven – Pictures of Matchstick Men

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wilsonBy Daniel Clowes.

This is the first graphic novel I have ever read – and I thought it was great. What has put me off reading any previously is probably the ‘superpower’ element that seems to be a part of so many comics – sorry ‘graphic novels’. But this was entertaining, meaningful and funny. The main character Wilson seems to blunder through life with no tact whatsoever exposing his neuroses for all to see and searching desperately for some kind of meaning. Whilst he is an arse, he is still treated with a touch of sympathy so that we don’t give up on him completely.

One thing I really liked was that each page was an episode and each was drawn differently. Now, this could be Daniel Clowes showing what a versatile artist he is – which is fine, but it is maybe nicer to think of it in that these episodes can be seen many ways. We are forced to see Wilson in a very simply drawn form then in quite a detailed film-noir character with all the shades in between. It was a great idea.

Having read and enjoyed this first graphic novel, which was gifted, I have decided it won’t be the last. The trick will be finding the good ones to buy as it is a strange new world that I know nothing about. All I know is that superheroes don’t interest me; but Wilson, as the polar opposite of a superhero, did.

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cosmosBy Witold Gombrowicz.

I really like this cover which was found on the first Portugese edition of the Novel. This was a re-read and I probably will re-read it again in a different translation. This is a translation not from the Polish directly but from the German and French editions. Thankfully there is a 2005 translation by Danuta Borchardt direct from the Polish but it will take a few weeks for me to get this from the US. The reason I am rereading Cosmos (despite it being my favourite Gombrowicz novel… possibly) is that I am contemplating turning it into a play. Which, as I read it again with a view to representing it on stage, seemed to become more and more problematic. With the new translation it may not be as difficult. I will just have to wait and see… There might not be such a strong internal voice leading to a dilemma as to how you can represent it on stage.

As for the book… this is one of the finest works of the 20th century – I have never read anything like it before or since. Berg.

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