August 23, 2017

The Dedalus Book of Russian Decadence: Perversity, Despair and Collapse

A fantastic and surreal book. Russian Decadence is a collection of 53 pieces of prose and poetry written by 7 Russian authors from the late 1800s.

The Dedalus Book of Russian Decadence

The featured authors are:

  • Leonid Andreyev
  • Alexander Blok
  • Valery Briusov
  • Alexander Kondratiev
  • Dmitry Merezhkovsky
  • Fyodor Sologub
  • and the only female Zinaida Gippius

Their works are focused on exploring the depths of the unconscious, and lead some really dark and fascinating areas.

The book is a very strange mix of stories, we visit a cult who are about the brought down in the middle of a revolution; we follow psychopaths around; there’s some sci-fi and explorations of parallel worlds. A weird exploration of excessive fascination with shadows, the intoxication of poisonous plants in an enchanted garden. Suicide obsessions and love in graveyards…

Truly a fascinating mental journey – I think I might have to read some more of the Dedalus collections of European decadence…


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

A short story telling the tale of those subjected to the harshest elements of the rule of Stalin in communist Russia.One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Published in 1963, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.

I ended up re-reading the first pages of this one, as the book kept referring to “Shukhov” and I didn’t initially realise that our “hero” is Ivan Denisovich Shukhov – ooops! Once I got that sorted out though it turned into such an easy read. I really flew through it.

Before I go any further I think I should also admit that I’m not convinced that my review will do the writing of the book justice – it’s incredibly well-written. Rather like Help you just breeze through the story then afterwards it hits you what a horrendous and incomprehensible time you now understand a bit better.

So, the story does exactly what it says on the tin – you experience a full day in the life of Ivan Denisovich. From waking up in the hut in the cold, right through to wrapping up warm and falling asleep again. During the day you explore all the intricacies of camp life – the rules, the structure, the politics the dangers and the joys.

It’s amazing (on reflection) how many angles and details are covered in this short book, and in one day – that doesn’t feel cramped with activity.

It starts with breakfast and a tour of the camp, then out to the power station where they are trying to build walls against all the odds. The fascinating activity of lunchtime then back to the camp, evening activities – including the joy and angst of food parcels and tobacco, then bed.

The most fascinating thing for me was the layers of contact between different people. You have the official rules and even official rules that it’s impossible to enforce. Then you have the occasional sniff of the power of the prisoners (especially when they return from the days work) when the guards just have to go with the flow. Plus the intricate relationships between the prisoners – both within the same team, and others. The story has a few “new” prisoners in it, and it’s interesting to understand how the narrator sees their future in the camp based on how quickly they learn their place and how to fit in.

Fascinating & enjoyable – one I’ll try and read again.


Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Well, I did try! Crime and Punishment

I got 25% of the way through Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime & Punishment (I would tell you what page I got to, but was reading on the kindle – so it’s percentages only I’m afraid).

I got to after the crime Raskolnikov committed, and someway into the punishment. But it just felt all a bit confused, rather ridiculous and like very little was really going to happen for the next 75%.

I might try it again one day, try and read it in one sitting.

But for now – I’ve satisfied the little curiosity I had for the ending by cheating. Yes, I visited spark notes and read their synopsis of the plot. Glad to say, but for a few twists and turns it was broadly predictable.