Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

March 18, 2016

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Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Of all the writers I’ve read, Tolstoy is best able to capture the totality of human nature. Again and again, I was floored by the depth of his  characters’ internal worlds, his ability to sketch out the motivations and contradictions and fantasies of people whose circumstances are so varied and different from his own.

Anna Karenina is, for those that don’t know, the story of an aristocratic woman who has an affair. There’s also a lot about a guy who likes farming. That’s it. As far as plots go, it’s not the greatest hook, but around this unexceptional subject is more insight into the human condition than you’ll find in a hundred best sellers. Read the rest of this entry »


Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

April 25, 2013

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert – what a creep.  Sexual predator, public masturbator, effete pseudo-intellectual; it’s not an easy prospect to spend 300+ pages with a pretentious paedo as a narrator, but Nabokov pulls it off (pun intended) thanks to some beautiful writing and razor-sharp wit.

Lolita is the story of a European literary scholar who develops an all-consuming fixation with nymphets – his term for girls on the cusp of puberty.  In his twenties, Humbert alternates between sordid indulgence and tortured repression.  His determination to escape temptation leads him to take multiple coalescence in mental hospitals, to marry the most coquettish woman that he can find, and even to flee to the arctic.  Conversely, his attempts to seek at fulfilment are so wretched and farcical that I almost – almost – felt sorry for him.

Inevitably, though, he accepts his perversion, and begins to seek out opportunity.  He gains accommodation and even marries a woman with one intention in mind – to gain access to her precocious twelve year old daughter, the titular Lolita.  The consummation of this obsession is the subject of the first book; the second is devoted to his downfall.

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The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

March 14, 2011

The Master and Margarita by Michail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita is a smart satire of Stalin’s Russia and a bold reinterpretation of Christian mythology, but what I loved most about it is its lush imaginativeness, its beautiful, dark images of an unhappy maidservant fleeing her former life on a flying pig, or Satan’s ball with its ape jazz band and crystal pool of wine, attended by histories greatest villains like Caligula, Messalina and, just for fun, polar bears.

Its plot can be summarised as: the devil pays a visit to Stalin’s Moscow.  It is written in the kind of tight, Russian prose that you find in Dostoevsky, but with a playfulness that sometimes has the author breaking the fourth wall, while the novel’s structure is, to put it bluntly, weird. Read the rest of this entry »