This delightful book starts with Arkady taking his hero, nihilist medical student Bazanov, home to meet his doting father who has a small estate where the serfs have recently been freed and are supposed to pay rent. Once home, Arkady discovers that he has a baby half-brother: his father has impregnated a servant girl who is scandalously living in the house but they are not yet married. Bazanov pursues his scientific hobbies, mostly dissecting frogs, and angers Arkady's elegant ex-roue uncle with his politics. After a while the pair go to visit friends and stay with widow Anna and her sister Katya. Bazanov falls in love with Anna who rejects him and they go off to Bazanov's equally doting father. Bazanov hates being back at home: he is embarrassed by his parents although his father is always telling his mother to cool her ardour for the boy. So they go back to Arkady's house.
This is a brilliant book. The characters come alive through their dialogue: I particularly loved Bazanov who spouts his nihilist rubbish and scarcely takes a breath. It is especially brilliant because no character is quite what it seems. The contradictions within Bazanov's philosophy are clear from the start, sometimes subtly inherent in what he says and sometimes pointed out by one of the other characters, especially the devoted disciple Arkady who ends up getting quite fed up with his friend. But other characters have quirks. Uncle Piotr is the ultimate bachelor, elegant and polite, but he once trailed round Europe with his lover. Arkady's rather wimpish Papa has a new child. Arkady's love affair with Katya is a matter of slow and gentle discovery; Arkady is at first in love with Anna and it is only gradually, without him being aware (though the reader is) that his easy friendship with Katya blossoms into something more. His hesitant proposal is a masterpiece.
This is a brilliant book and really short (for a Russian novel!) and easy to read. A fabulous master-class in the art of writing characters.
November 2014; 224 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57