Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Madhouse - post I

It is unusual to have an author set out in the foreword a declaration that the book you are about to read is about a non-entity. Most would at least try to give the impression that the main character was perhaps flawed but worth sticking with but Zinoviev from the off explains that the story will focus on the trials and tribulations of JRF, a Junior Research Fellow, who is destined never to fit into Soviet society.

Bullet points between pages 1 – 64

* JRF has moved out of his parents house and shares an apartment with a couple and their daughter and works at the institute of ideology trying to work his way through academia and up the greasy pole

* His academy is known as the madhouse because it is painted yellow, which was the colour the state used to distinguish those buildings that housed the mentally ill and insane and so although having a weekend of it being blue the nickname has stuck

* He manages to lead a pretty undistinguished sort of existence neither gaining the eye of his superiors or the respect of his family and manages to stir some sort of love hate relationship with the man he shares an apartment with

* The problem he faces is summed up in poetry by his friend who has the ability to produce lyrical verses that pack a punch:

What really matters is, I find,
You have to be one of Their kind.
Not one of Them up at the top,
But down below among the slop.
To she with Them identity
The watchword is ‘nonentity’.
You see, when all is said and done,
The thing to realise is one
Is joining not the brightest wits,
But a Brotherhood of Shits.


* Despite being a slight nonentity JRF has too much of his own mind – described almost like a schizophrenic at times with different voices advising him what to do – and he is able to conjure up the voices of the past, particularly Lenin and Stalin and the old head of the KGB

* He is not a member of the party but realises that you have to become one to make your way and there are hoops you have to jump through and he doesn’t seem to make the right connections

Those lines taken from a poem will stick with me, tempted to print them out and have them around my desk at work, that has been a real highlight from today’s reading.

More tomorrow…

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