Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Master and Margarita

Title: The Master and Margarita

Author: Mikhail Bulgakov

Number of pages: 564

Started: 7 February 2010

Finished: 17 February 2010

Opening words:

At the hour of the hot spring sunset two citizens appeared at the Patriarch's Ponds. One of them, approximately forty years old, dressed in a grey summer suit, was short, dark-haired, plump, bald, and carried his respectable fedora hat in his hand. His neatly shaven face was adorned with black horn-rimmed glasses of a supernatural size. The other, a broad-shouldered young man with tousled reddish hair, his checkered cap cocked back on his head, was wearing a cowboy shirt, wrinkled white trousers and black sneakers.

The first was none other than Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, editor of a fat literary journal and chairman of the board of one of the major Moscow literary associations, called Massolit for short, and his young companion was the poet Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyrev, who wrote under the pseudonym of Homeless.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

The devil comes to Moscow wearing a fancy suit. With his disorderly band of accomplices - including a demonic, gun-toting tomcat - he immediately begins to create havoc.

Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos. Making a bargain with the devil, she decides to try a little black magic of her own to save the man she loves ...

Read a major analysis of the book (by an “amateur”) here

What I thought:

This book wasn’t really my kind of read. I didn’t really get into the plot very well and found it all a bit odd and unsatisfying. This might, in part, be down to the translation, particularly as there seems to be much debate about which of the many translation is “best”. Perhaps if I had read another version, I might have found it to be a different read. But, for me, I didn’t really find the book flowed, I thought the plot was odd and a bit to surreal in some places for my liking and I just didn’t find the book very coherent. Not a book that I would particularly recommend.

Friday, 5 February 2010


Title: Lolita

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Number of pages: 309

Started: 31 January 2010

Finished: 6 February 2010

Opening words:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was born as my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns.

Read the opening chapters of the book here.

Plot summary:

Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. He also likes little girls. And none more so than Lolita, who he’ll do anything to possess. Is he in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? …Or is he all of these?

What I thought:

This was an interesting read and clearly one that is affected by the narrator telling the story. Humbert Humbert is the narrator and the protagonist with a liking for young girls. It’s a controversial story and one that some might feel rather uncomfortable with, not just because of the storyline itself, but because of the narrators explanations and, perhaps, because he might draw some emotion (about him as a person) other than abhorrence at times. It’s a challenging concept for a book and it starts with a foreword (that you should read before you read the rest of the book, as it is part of the plot) which gives a very strong indication of where things will end up. But the story takes some interesting paths to reach its conclusion and you see the ‘morality’ of Humbert and how the standards that he applies to other are not necessarily the same as he applies to himself.

Nabokov was a Russian, and this book, which was written in English, was an experiment in using the English language to its full extent – although he does throw in quite a lot of French too. The book at times seems to get caught up in using the most obscure words that can be found to convey the message, which does nit always enhance the book. But as a work of literature it is also a challenging read, but perfectly readable.

Did I enjoy the book? It is hard to say. I thought it was a clever story in its own way and one that was challenging on a number of levels, but I find it hard to be enthusiastic about a book that involves a subject of this nature.