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
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57