Evgenya is the daughter of such a family. She is a bit of a tomboy who romps around the locality knickerless with the five brothers of her friend, Valentina. But when mining student Vitya comes to lodge whe falls in love with him. But he is a member of revolutionary group The People's Will and Evgenya gets drawn into their activities.
Sonya runs the group with a rod of iron; Countess Anna helps to bankroll them; Popov is an ex-chef who executes their traitors. And Evgenya learns about lesbian love with Anna, about posing naked for artist Albrecht, and about sex and prize-fighting and killing (the women fight bare knuckle and bare) from Popov. Her schoolgirl crush on Vitya somehow gets lost in her journey into her personal depths of eroticism and sadism.
As the People's Will slowly gets tracked down by the secret police, in part due to their own amateurish incompetence, the idealists slowly metamorphose into psychopaths.
I found this a very well written book. The understanding of the author for his subject was overwhelming. The mix of violence and eroticism was addictive. And the way that the author mixed the high ideals and revolutionary dramas with the minutiae of everyday life was perfectly judged:
- As Sonya warns Evgenya that her affection for Vitya might interfere with her loyalty to the organisation they are moving furniture: "They were turning an awkward corner in the stairs. Sonya seemed more concerned with the trunk than with Vitya's feelings. 'Lower your end,' she said sharply." Perfect pathetic fallacy!
- "She's a normal, healthy young woman - she likes violent men. Killers, I should think, she finds irresistible." (And when the speaker Anna is challenged on this being normal and healthy she points out that girls love a soldier; the only difference seems to be the uniform.)
- "'I'm beginning to understand why they call us nihilists ... because we achieve absolutely fucking nothing.'"
- "Damp as a dungeon and cold as an orphanage."
- "She fell silent, a long declaratory silence which brought her closer to Vitya than she'd ever been before."
A bit of a romance but a damn good read. November 2016; 400 pages