every Starbucks should have a polar bear (scoradh) wrote,
every Starbucks should have a polar bear

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The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov

January's practically over and this is the first book I've managed to finish, OH THE SHAME OF IT. I lost my mojo there for a while with anxiety about FINALMEDFINALMED - or rather, to be exact, anxiety about vacillation about the work I should be doing. But I managed to get my studying back on track and right now I know quite a lot about Parkinson Plus syndromes (ask me about multisystem atrophy!), thank you. And I also managed to finish a book.

I also decided to adopt a new strategy - one of doing a short synopsis of the books I read before reviewing/ranting over them. This is more for my own sake in terms of future recall of what the hell they were even about. They'll be behind the cut as I regard such things as spoilers. (DON'T ask me about spoilers.)

This was a short story collection starting with possibly the worst short story EVER. I would have been very tempted to abandon the volume altogether if I weren't both determined to continue and in despair over dropping yet another book unfinished. Fortunately (for me) the stories get progressively better, but I'm still confused about the strategy of starting with the worst story. Or indeed including it at all - much less naming the volume after it.

1. The Lady with the Dog
So this lady with a dog and this other dude visit Yalta on holiday and have an affair. They are both married (and thus reprehensible). The man is used to having affairs and has them on purpose to amuse himself, but he can't get this one chick out of his head, so he ends up following her back to her hometown. He sees her at the opera and they start hanging out again. They lament the difficulty of being together properly when they're both, you know, ALREADY MARRIED. Then it ENDS.

This was the man I admired for that wonderful writing advice: 'If there are crossed pistols over the fireplace in the first scene, they must be discharged by the third scene.' Not only was there no discharging in this story, THERE WERE NO PISTOLS.

Pretty description here, though:
They walked and talked of the strange light on the sea: the water was of a soft warm lilac hue, and there was a golden streak from the moon upon it.

2. A Doctor's Visit
A doctor goes to visit the daughter and heir to a great industrialist who is suffering recurrent migraines. He ends up having to stay the night and during his stay he has a chat with the girl, decides her problem is that she's burdened by her riches, and tells her so. She agrees that she's caught an infection from the filthy lucre. Doctor goes home satisfied.

3. An Upheaval
A governess works in a house where the mistress loses a brooch and has all the servants searched. The governess resigns in indignation at such disrespect. Rather interesting conclusion, and the first story I kind-of liked.

4. Ionitch
This is where things started to look up. Ionitch is the story of another doctor who starts up a practice in a fairly provincial town. He starts visiting the Number One family who are apparently extremely talented at various things. The daughter of the family wants to be a great pianist. The doctor falls in love with her and proposes, but she turns him down in favour of going to study music in Moscow. A few years later she comes back chastened and willing to indulge his suit, but in the meantime he's lost interest. They all end up bored and unhappy. It's great!

5. The Head of the Family
This is BRILLIANT. It's very short, possibly the shortest story in here, and recounts the standard exploits of one Zhilin on a typical morning when he has a hangover. It's such a normal scene and yet so laden with menace.

6. The Black Monk
Very intelligent guy, Kovrin, develops schizophrenia (by my diagnosis) and goes to stay with his old mentor and his daughter, who have an amazing garden. They grow both crops for sale and flowers for pleasure, but it's on such a huge scale they are completely obsessed by it. Kovrin ends up marrying Tanya mainly because his mentor wishes it so, but he brings nothing but misery on everyone due to the state of his illness.

where pines grew with bare roots that looked like shaggy paws
Another A+ description.

7. Volodya
Russians sure are depressing. Volodya, a teenaged student, misses an exam in favour of trying - and failing - to seduce an older woman. His mother is an amazing character, I must say; in only one or two scenes Chekhov showed completely how responsible she was for how Volodya turned out.

8. An Anonymous Story
This was pretty amazing too - at least, the parts showing the conflict between Zinaida’s idealised version of Orlov and the reality are. The last few parts drag rather, and we have another pistol-less ending. Basically a ... revolutionary? Bolshevik? comrade takes a job as a butler to the son of a high-up in the government, hoping to uncover state secrets. (I'm assuming.) Instead, he gets pulled into the petty intrigues of a idle dilettante.

Your everlasting attacks on female logic, lying, weakness and so on - doesn't it all look like a desire at all costs to force woman down into the mud that she may be on the same level as your attitude to her?

Yay for Chekhov the feminist!

[...] a decent and orderly man's house ought, like a warship, to have nothing in it superfluous - no women, no children, no rags, no kitchen utensils.

Except for how sailors without a few pots and pans or spoons might be both hungry and very messy.

Overall, a decent reading experience!

Tags: book glomp 2010
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