Tuesday, October 09, 2007

book review - The Steppe and Other Stories


Any collection of short stories should provide an insight into a writer’s mind. Unlike a single piece of work there is the chance not only to see how an author handles different subjects and emotions but often in a single volume how their style has matured over the years.

It is no different with Anton Chekhov’s collection of short stories, The Steppe and Other Stories. There are some here that are short in length but deep in meaning and then the final title story, which is long and can appear to be without much direction at times, that is designed to be a tribute to the Russian landscape as well as a tale of growing up.

What you start to learn by reading through this collection is that Chekhov was putting down on paper what it meant to not only be Russian but also to be poor, wealthy and love struck in a country that had a clearly defined hierarchy of social strata. When love should strike as with the accountant and the beautiful landowner’s daughter in Verotchka, social as much as emotional resistance comes into play. On other occasions those with money are robbed and cheated by the poor who somehow thing that God is on their side because they have been dealt a bad hand in life.

The writing is focused but now and again takes flight – particularly the storm scene in The Steppe – and when it does you can start to appreciate just how good Chekhov is at painting a picture that would make most travel writers envious. He is able to draw you in to a story that twists and turns and is a world that is complete. The Mire is one of those stories where the final full stop does not prevent you from thinking about what happens next.

There is also a theme of pride, with the Jewish inn proprietors brother expressing anger at his perceived position in life in The Steppe. It is also at the core of the tragic tale Volodya, who takes his own life after being spurned by one of his mother’s friends. Her laughter and ridicule is too much for the young man to bear.

Because this is a short story collection it is not daunting and by the time the longest story comes at the end you are bedded down in his style and quite happy to stick with it. The reasons why this deserves to be looked at is because it shows just how a writer approaches different emotional situations and manages to work through a tight story despite being hedged in by pagination restrictions.

The perfect book to have with you for those situations when reading can only be done in chunks. There is a real satisfaction here being able to finish up a story in a matter of minutes.

Version read – Everyman Library hardback

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