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19th February
2010
written by Steph

One of my 2010 resolutions that is always at the back of my mind (but struggling to break through to the forefront, I assure you) is that I’d like to read more Classics.  Who doesn’t, really?  We have a pretty wide selection for me to choose from (and with my ipod touch on hand, the possibilities of free public domain novels are nearly endless), so it can be somewhat overwhelming trying to narrow my pick down to single book.  In such times, I tend to wind up creating highly specific restrictions that are ultimately pretty arbitrary.  In this case, I decided that since A Hero of Our Time is considered the father of the Russian novel, and we have a bunch of Russian classics (e.g., The Brothers Karamazov, Doctor Zhivago, The Master & Margarita, etc.,) kicking about the place, I’d better read this one before I tackle any of those other ones.  It only makes sense, right? So, Tony actually read and reviewed this book at some point last year (so you can read his review if you want a synopsis of the book), and he really enjoyed it and thought I would to.  Only, I kind of didn’t like it very much at all!  Disaster! I guess the first thing I found odd about this so-called novel is that it’s really a bunch of short stories, and we all know that short stories are not my preferred form of fiction.  I just have such a hard time getting invested in them, and here it was even more of an issue because the stories themselves felt really insignificant and unimportant; I couldn’t bring myself to care much about the main character, Pechorin, even if he was a scallywag.  His exploits didn’t do much to titillate me, and I didn’t really enjoy the language either.  Maybe my downfall is that I don’t really like footnotes, and so I skipped most of them despite them potentially being a large proportion of the novel’s charm?  I think I only kept with the book because it was pretty short, and also because I kept expecting that something great was going to happen that would make everything coalesce into a brilliant whole.  Suffice it to say that the latter never really happened. I was reminded, in a way, of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the chief difference being that I LOVED Huck Finn, but this one not so much.  But it’s got that picaresque vibe going on, and Pechorin jumps from adventure to adventure, for better or for worse. I don’t know. This is one of those books that I feel I must not get, because it really left me cold.  Supposedly Pechorin is meant to be an amalgamated reflection of the vices of society at the time, which is interesting, I guess, but at the same time, viewing him in this light, I still wasn’t able to really figure out what exactly I was supposed to take away with regards to Russian society.  Again, maybe the footnotes would have helped me appreciate the importance of the book, but I’m not sure they would really have helped me enjoy it as a piece of literature (then again, Nabokov was apparently incredibly snarky in them, so who knows!).  I guess all I keep thinking is that first doesn’t always mean best, since I’d MUCH rather have been re-reading Anna Karenina than reading this, even if it did come first. Overall, I felt this was a disappointment, and even knowing it somehow set the stage for subsequent Russian literature, I failed to grasp the inherent qualities of this book.  Perhaps there’s a reason this isn’t a better known classic! Rating: 2.5 out of 5

13 Comments

  1. Eva
    02/19/2010

    I loathed this book too. And I had to read it TWICE, English & Russian, and even translate bits of it. AND we spent a long weekend in Taman, which is where Lermentov wrote it or something like that. Torture, pure torture. lol

  2. 02/19/2010

    I actually remember liking this, but since I read it four years ago, it’s hard to remember just why. I tend to appreciate social commentary, and since I read it for a class, getting to the core of Pechorin was really interesting to me. I don’t think I had Nabokov’s footnotes in my edition, so I don’t know if they would have helped. Still, it wasn’t my favorite.

  3. 02/19/2010

    I love classics, I read a lot of them, but I am not a fan at all of Russian literature. I think I’ll skip this.

  4. 02/19/2010

    I have actually never heard of this book but I’m sad to hear that it wasn’t a great read for you. Your reaction to this book reminds me of how I felt about The Adventures of Kaviler and Clay. Even though it is not a classic, I felt much the same disinterest and disdain for the main characters, who were supposed to be unpredictable rouges. Their exploits just didn’t interest me, and despite the fact that so many other readers loved it, it was only a tepid read for me. I hope you are able to find something more pleasing to read very soon!

    By the way, are you beginning to feel better? I remember that you had been really sick in that past week and was hoping that you were on the mend.

  5. 02/19/2010

    I am so glad to hear you and Eva hated it. Off the list! :–) (love paring down the list)

  6. 02/20/2010

    @ Eva: Yikes! Once was enough with this one, I think! Actually, once might have been too much! 😉
     
    @ Meghan: I guess I just wasn’t sure on what exactly the social commentary was in the case of this novel! I think if I could have seen what exactly Lermontov was picking on/scrutinizing I might have enjoyed the novel more.
     
    @ Amanda: Yes, given that you aren’t a fan of Russian lit to begin with, I say you should definitely steer clear of this one! 😉
     
    @ zibilee: Oh no! I have K&C on the TBR pile and am thinking of tackling it this year! But if it’s anything like this, I doubt I’ll make it through! At least this one was short!
    Oh, and I’m still sick! Not nearly as bad as I was, but I still have a cough that’s lingering and requires medication that tires me out! 🙁
     
    @ rhapsody: Heh! Normally I’d hope people would be rooting for me to like a book, but yes, in this case, I did dislike it and would safely say you can skip it! 😀

  7. 02/20/2010

    Interesting. I’d like to read this at some point, so I’m glad to know what to expect. Novels from earlier times tend to be episodic and picaresque, and that’s not my favorite mode either. It’s fascinating that people of the time loved that mode so much, though — they didn’t necessarily need character development and overall unity in the way we want it now.

  8. 02/21/2010

    Ah, the Russians. They scare me. I suppose this is NOT the book that will make my get over my fear 😛 I want to read The Master & Margarita this year, though.

    I’ve also been taking advantage of free public domain classics lately. It’s a great way to expand my reading horizons!

  9. 02/21/2010

    You know, I’ve honestly never heard of this work before. Weak on Russian literature, I guess. Sorry to hear you didn’t like it, though.

  10. 02/22/2010

    @ Dorothy: I think you may be right that novels did tend to be more episodic and picaresque… even a novel like Jane Eyre has that to some extent. It’s not as though that format always bothers me, but here it felt particularly clunky and “un-novel” like.
     
    @ Nymeth: I haven’t read tons of Russian literature, but I have read some Tolstoy (a fair bit, actually) and I liked him a lot! He reminded me of Jane Austen! This though? It wasn’t great, and if I started with it, well, I might not be so kindly disposed to Russian writing!
     
    @ Eric: I think it was totally random that we wound up purchasing this book, and it wasn’t one I knew tons about and actively sought out! In retrospect, I think I would have been better off skipping it!

  11. 02/22/2010

    I had never heard of this. But to see Eva’s comment first convinces me that maybe I won’t bother — since she’s the Russian reader…

    So sorry it was torture for you, Steph. I hope you like which ever you pick up next.

  12. 02/24/2010

    @ Rebecca: Yes, Eva tends to know (and love!) her Russian lit and has great taste! I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was torture, but certainly one of the weakest (if not THE weakest) book I’ve read so far this year.

  13. […] you know, I have mixed feelings about these types of stories.  I loved Twain’s Huck Finn, but was not such a fan of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time.  For me, Tortilla Flat fell somewhere between the two.  I found it easy enough to read and some […]

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