Friday, January 07, 2011

book review: Islanders & The Fisher of Men by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Being attracted to Russian literature like a moth to a flame this book, found in between others on a charity bookshop shelf, seemed to immediately hint at some wonders within.

But fairly quickly you realise that although you are dealing with something Russian the decision of Yevgeny Zamyatin to set the action in England means this book will have a very different feel.

The best word I can find for the result is detachment. Zamyatin writes about an England he has observed as a foreigner and a world which he seems to dislike. Perhaps it is the cocoon of the world he describes in Chiswick which is running parallel to the 1917 revolution in his own country.

He even starts the first part of Islanders, the main story in this book, with the sub title A Foreign Body, which could as much refer to himself perhaps as the man Campbell who bursts into the ordered life of Rev Dewley.

The Rev works to a strict time management system of his own devising which stifles his wife and leaves no room for spontaneity. So when a man is hit by a car and taken into the vicarage to recover the impact on the reverend's life is fairly dramatic.

But nowhere near as dramatic as it is on the vicar's wife who glimpses the possibility of a different life, one away from the repression of home, and falls for the unwanted lodger. The consequences of the visit are profound for her even if her husband does his best to get back to routine as quickly as possible.

The lodger continues to dominate the wife's thoughts even after he has left and falls into friendships with a night club singer with fatal results.

Are those obsessed with systems really living? Can love be scheduled in a diary? Makes you think.

Fishers of Men as a title inspires some sort of religious theme but the main character of this short story Mr Craggs makes his extra money by sneaking up on people who are at risk of falling foul of the anti-vice campaign. He blackmails them to pay out or risk losing their reputations for a bit of a kiss and cuddle in the park.

But a zeppelin attack, which is brilliantly described, undoes Cragg and there is a sense of the hypocrite being undone.

An interesting read and although both stories describe a world that is perhaps lost now but the hypocrisy, love and lust remain essential features of human character.

No comments: