Friday, May 23, 2008

Turgenev vs Dostoyevsky, or God how I love 19th century Russian fiction

I've been in between books for a few days, partly because I have been trying and failing to drum up the will to read John Cooper Powys's A Glastonbury Romance. Various people whose opinions I respect rave about him; on the other hand a 1,100-page novel about the holy grail, complete with watercolour of a ruined abbey on the cover, sounds dreadful.

In the meantime I've been reading a few stories from the Penguin Book of... I mentioned a few posts ago. It really is a cracker. The one by whoosit-Annibal about pond-dipping particularly stood out (can you tell that I don't have the book to hand?). Turgenev's 'The Knocking' was in there too, from his Hunter's Notebook, and when I found a copy in Oxfam or somewhere I bought it and was looking forward to it.

Then, at the last moment, I found myself buying copies of Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead and The Adolescent, and thought of Turgy went out of the window. The editors of the Penguin anthology say something disparaging about Turgenev, something about 'the sentimentality which mars much of his work', but I wouldn't say that that was his problem. It's just that he's a safe pair of hands - lyricism gentle realism - who gets blown out of the water by the other two. The more I think about it, the more Demons seems like a rewrite of Fathers and Sons - not so much a parody as a trumping. No wonder they fell out.


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