And others survived, preserved themselves, guarded against changes, laid low behind the strips of unglued wall paper, behind the loosened doorframes, under the tattered felt, and now they emerged, honest and old-fashioned, redolent of ancient virtues and devalued sins… They came out, carrying under their arms valuables safeguarded in their lethargic sleep: decayed novelties, frayed audacities, mouldy discoveries, expired insights, amen; squinting, strange, rare and useless, they came out the way an antiquarian, albino cockroach might emerge from a pile of old newspapers…. 329
That’s a taste of Tatyana Tolstaya for you, in a book of short stories first published in Russian in the 1980s. A descendant of that Tolstoy family, who has been compared to Gogol and Chekhov, she exults in a hyper-metaphorical style that blends realism and fantasy, politics and folklore, the absurd and the plaintive. The person she really reminded me of was the Bulgakov of The Master And Margarita. It’s a very rich collection, quite overwhelming in fact. There are loving, melancholy stories about old family retainers, surreal stories about men turning into animals, biting stories about possessive love, stories about ordinary people entranced by charlatans, stories about artists like Lisaveta who specialises in a form of art called “Nailism”, stories about childhood and old age and the way we are, all of us, whirled away into the head-spinning abyss of time. Terrific.