Amidst all of the hospital visits and all that palaver of late I was lucky enough to have a visit from the lovely Novel Insights. Seeing one of your best friends, for we have been friends since the tender age of four years old, when you are going through a lot is just the job and indeed it was. We had coffee, gossiped a lot and, in relation to this blog, swapped a book or two (and in Novel Insights case bought a few more under my bad influence) one of which was the Penguin Mini-Classics ‘Through The Wall’ by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.
I had never heard of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya until I was lent this short and fascinating selection. In ‘Through The Wall’ a collection of five short stories Penguin, the publishers, have given any new reader to the author a really interesting selection of her work. Each one of these tales, actually bar ‘Through The Wall’ which is much more linear and less surreal, reads like a dark little fairy story which packs its own punch and has much more to say for itself than might initially meet the eye.
Babies and parenthood seems to be the biggest theme to the book. ‘Through The Wall’ itself features Alexander’s time in hospital and the things he can hear through the wall behind his bed. First a couple and then soon a family both have a profound affect on Alexander especially when there is a new born child in the latter case. Sounds like I am being vague, but it’s a very short tale and one out of the whole collection that I am still trying to piece together. ‘The Father’ tells of a man who has lost his children, though you wonder if he had any in the first place, until a woman tells him that he must venture by train to the ‘Fortieth Kilometer’ which leads him to a mysterious wood and possibly all the answers.
‘The Cabbage-Patch Mother’ marks a slight change in the stories and here the collection becomes slightly more surreal and fairytale like, even though all the tales start with ‘once there was a man/woman’. We read of a woman who finds her baby ‘Droplet’ in a cabbage patch (which made me think of the old saying which I am sure it was inspired by) yet her daughter will never grow and doctors will not treat her. As the tale unwinds, involving a mysterious hermit, we hear of the mother’s previous failed pregnancies and I wondered if this was at heart what the story was about, a mother’s fears during pregnancy and the turbulence afterwards? Maybe I am reading too much into it as I did with the longest tale ‘Marilena’s Secret’ (which is rather a romp about twins who are turned into one giant fat woman at the hand of a wicked wizard they reject) and how it looks at the outer person and the inner personality?
I was wondering if this would be a rather feminist collection (not that that would have mattered) but from writing in both sexes, and the final tale ‘Anna and Maria’ is written by a man who can only work magic on people he doesn’t love, which when his wife starts to die he tries to cheat, proves with ‘The Father’ that she can write women and men just as well. This is a wonderful surreal, dark, gripping and often thought provoking selection. You could look deeply into every tale in this collection if I am honest or you could simply just read them for the enjoyment. It’s not wonder I now want to read much more of her novels now is it? 9/10
If you haven’t tried Ludmilla then I would definitely give her whirl. I have heard she is proclaimed as one of Russia’s greatest living writers but until I saw Polly’s review, and then with her subsequent loaning of the novel, I had never heard of her. I really want to read the collection ‘There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour’s Baby’. I wonder how many other wonderful authors we simply don’t hear about. Any you would care to share?