Anything Russian interests me; I’m not sure why, maybe because despite it being ostensibly ‘European’, it’s also so foreign and unknown. This novel is about Martin, a European student of indeterminate nationality studying Russian literature in Moscow at the turn of the 21st century. As he adapts to life in a strange country- deciding to dedicate his work to understanding Russian women both in real life and literature (*insert eye roll here, if you like*)- Martin discovers its nightlife, its women and its sudba.
Oh God, I hated Martin. He and his friends trawl clubs for women (who they refer to as dyevs, which according to Google Translate translates as ‘virgins’. Nice.), trading on their ‘exotic’ appeal as ‘ex-pats’. Martin views his many girlfriends as anthropological studies, to write notes about in his ‘little red book’, linking them to tragic Russian heroines and discussing them often in reference to their male creators. Yes, I learnt about Russian literature, but it was through a very masculine prism. It became wearying to read about a bevy of Russian women being charmed by what appear to be quite mediocre men. When Martin confronts an ex-girlfriend for being a prostitute, I found myself cheering for her as she gave him the equivalent of a ‘so?’ He’d treated her badly. She didn’t care and neither did I.
What did appeal to me were the descriptions of Moscow itself, although again as seen from an outsider. Erades has lived in Moscow, and it shows. Despite a lot of the action taking place in either seedy clubs or Martin’s flat, there is a lot of love for Moscow evident in the writing.
So why did I keep reading, if I hated a lot about the character? A quote on the back promised me a startling ending- and it did deliver on that, an unexpected twist. It felt strange and maybe a little rushed, but it did pack a bit of a punch. I also relished the chance to understand a bit about Moscow before the scariness of modern times (Putin is a newly elected president in the novel and the Russians approach the news with a stereotypical fatalism. But of course.)
Despite it all, I guess it’s good to be brought out of my comfort zone and read something that I found so at odds with my own beliefs. And I do really want to read Anna Karenina, even if this novel contains MASSIVE SPOILERS*.
*As comedian Rachel Fairburn says of Dracula- if it’s over 100 years old, it’s been around too long to get narked about spoilers.