Likely it will be a riotous September with the month’s posts focusing on the Read Harder Challenge. I’m gearing up for October being my usual round of seasonal scary reads because I love a scary reads binge to ease me into the fall. I’ll try not to wax poetic about my guilty love of fall. I’ll just read the right books to celebrate hoodies, crisp air and spookiness.
There was never any question that this is the year to read the book I chose for this category. My best friend had just gotten through it, although he openly admitted that he feels some of the story got past him (so I knew some of it would slide by me, too). I have read many of the other considered to be classic examples of Magical Realism, with a few detours to eat up most everything by Sarah Addison Allen, and then when I googled book ideas for this category it popped right up to greet me, even with the same cover as the used edition I snagged via Amazon not that long ago:
The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
It’s telling in itself that I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this novel. I could start with the fact that I would probably be a ton cooler if I understood it. If I wasn’t combing the internet for whatever extra information I could get to make it hold together in my mind any better than it did. It’s not even my first go at a Russian novel, with having read Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina years ago. And yet there was always a feeling that I was missing the context that would really drive this one home for me.
What I gathered, mixed with information teased out of the internet, was that Satan and some compatriots, the cat that is featured on every cover of this novel (and even my post!) named Behemoth being one of them, to wreak random havoc on Soviet Russia in a satirical fashion. I really tried to read other sources before writing this, but it felt so random to me, the reason for their shenanies being that the whole point was to make fun of Soviet Russia circa 1930. I didn’t understand why they would just roll into Russia and mess with everyone and then decide they are done and take off. I spent time in my lovely writing course on the importance of character motives and I didn’t see one for these guys other than being foils and hosting a ball leading to a random adulterous woman getting her greatest wish. Anyone is free to comment to set me straight.
I may have felt I was missing something because of the paucity of knowledge I have around Soviet Russia circa 1930. I know that the people were mainly poor and struggling. I grew up during the last vestiges of the Cold War and I remember hearing in school about how Communism played out in the Soviet Union, as well as having done a presentation on Stalin for sixth grade and how he allowed record numbers of his people to die (freeze/starve if memory serves). But I had to pick through other sources to understand what exactly was being made fun of. I didn’t mind this, really, but it’s difficult to spend time reading a novel and wishing when it was done that you had done it through the context of a college course where you didn’t have four other courses to complete.
Also, as I have found with many classics, there is a lot of rule breaking going on as far as all the advice out there on how to write a novel people want to read. The main characters don’t come into the book until the first third is over. There is none of this introducing them and their arc within the first page or two. There is action, with Satan arguing about the existence of Jesus with a man who does not believe as was what the government preferred at the time, and then a predicted and freaky mishap ending in death, and then a chapter telling the story leading up to the crucifixion. But you don’t meet Master for awhile and then even later, his lover Margarita. And as I said before, either I am really dense or there aren’t really clear motivations of the supernatural team of the devil and his cronies, and then the Russians find ways after to explain it away and minimize it, which the writer takes pains to detail out. And you never really know why Margarita is so dissatisfied with her clearly enviable life to the point where she throws it all away to carry out the dreams of her lover. Like, I understood why Anna Karenina made the choices she did, because Dostoyevsky made her sucky marriage clear, but Margarita has money and a loving husband and takes the first chance she gets to become a witch and fly around and then host a ball with like, no clothes on, meeting some of the darkest souls in Christendom. I know she does this to be reunited with her lover but she enjoys it, too.
It was entertaining and I know I’ll need another go at it at some point to gather all of it. Even reading the summaries shortly after the chapter (which was somewhat interrupted by the fact I was reading it on a camping grip with limited WiFi access) I was like okay, that part was not as clear or I missed something. n
I also realize this was a lot to say about a book I had to work at for the incomplete knowledge I gleaned. And it gets its own post being as mysterious and intriguing as it was leading up to reading it and then the baffling entertainment that it afforded. It was messed up and that’s why people love it. But I think there is more of a point to the messed up that I sifted out. And I don’t feel ashamed of that.
Riot list reads continue as we coast into the last quarter of the year. My last fall was busy and this one is shaping up to be, too, with not having time to set aside to do my pending novel edits. As I have noted ad nauseum before, however, it is a long, long winter.
Comments/Likes/Shares, especially if anyone cares to enlighten me further on this one.