Monday, August 31, 2015

Mount TBR #29

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Red Spectres: Russian 20th Century Gothic-Fantastic Tales – Various, tr. Muireann Maguire

From about 1890 to 1924, Russia experienced ordeal after ordeal. Defeats in two major wars. Two revolutions. A civil war. The Volga famine. The extermination of the peasantry as a class. Epidemics and hunger.

No wonder during this turmoil the response of some writers and readers was the wish to escape dealing with trouble and chaos, if only for a short time with a short story. Writers of the Soviet gothic included major figures such as Ivan Bunin, Yevgeny Zamyatin and Mikhail Bulgakov. Lesser known writers of such stories include Perov, Chayanov, Peskov,

These nine stories feature typically gothic stand-bys like mirrors, witches’ sabbaths, occult paraphernalia, and mannequins coming to life. The themes are as Russian as a samovar: the ennui of superfluous men, the obsessions of bored housewives, and, as we expect, the nature of mortality and the soul. Mustn’t forget that old faithful of gothic stories either: the panopticon!

The stories are not all that frightening. But they have a creepy settings and fantastic plots that induce a welcome chill on hot summer evenings.

The translator, Muireann Maguire, is a lecturer in Russian at the University of Exeter. Her research interests are nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian literature and comparative literature.  She earned her PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2009.

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