Tuesday, August 04, 2009


In the last few weeks every book I've picked up hasn't really answered. In the end I got round to Sketches from a Hunter's Album, the book that made Turgenev famous. It's funny to think of him facing house arrest for subversion for writing this gentle collection of anecdotes, but it's all context, innit?

I've only read two so far. 'Yermolay and the Miller's Wife' is a short story in the classic vein (I should probably say 'at the bedrock of the classic vein' or some similarly tortured thing). But 'Khor and Kalinych' is weirder, slighter stuff: it really is a sketch, a double portrait. There's no story to speak of. The subversion lies in the discussion of serfs' lives and the treatment of them as people. I guess this is much more significant than the hints of extramarital sex in 'Yermolay and the Miller's Wife' – imagine how this situation might have been reversed in England at the time.

'Khor and Kalinych' also lies near the beginning of a short story tradition – the one we (OK, I) tend to think of as more modern, in which the story is less important than the treatment. I remember reading others like this by Turgenev years ago, like 'The Brigadier' (in a battered old collection of that name). I feel ambivalent about them – they can seem so slight that you have to be in the mood, since they're congenitally incapable of grabbing you by the throat. They indicate why Dostoyevsky despised him.

Similarly storyless was 'Grandmother' by Hans Christian Andersen, a prose poem really, remorseless in spite of its sentiment and grimly disdainful of the narrative twist I was expecting. I suppose that's the point – art imitating life.

Bought some black ruby barbs and kuhli loaches at the weekend for my tropical tank. Mostly settling in well – the cockatoo cichlid looks pretty pissed off to have new neighbours, but otherwise OK. Except – one of the loaches wriggled its way into the filter unit and jammed the mechanism in a hideous swimming pool accident type accident. I got up in the morning to find the fish all swimming weirdly in still water, took the filter apart thinking it was broken and extracted the little corkscrew body. I don't think it was anyone's grandmother, but it was still a bit of a shame.


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