Communicator (communicator) wrote,
Communicator
communicator

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

I have just read a collection of short stories by Russian writer Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. The collection is called There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbour's Baby, subtitled 'Scary Fairy Tales'. These are short supernatural stories, a bit reminiscent of Kelly Link. Probably people on my f-list know Petrushevskaya, but I didn't know her at all. She's a big name in modern Russian literature, it seems, and she has been writing since the 1960s, at first censored and repressed, now nationally celebrated.

The book is a very easy read - I normally take weeks to complete a book but I rushed through this in a couple of days. The stories were written over three or four decades, but they are quite consistent, or you could say samey if you didn't like them. They have the style of uneasy fairy stories, and they are set in modern Russia. They operate in that Scooby Doo space I wrote about at the weekend, where it is not clear to what extent things are supernatural. A woman's husband comes back from the war and sits silently in his chair - is he shell shocked or a ghost - that kind of thing.

Most of the stories are about working class women in difficult circumstances. They are quite tough-minded and sometimes callous, but ending hopeful-to-sentimental; perhaps the wife buries the husband's torn flight suit, and he is released. Stories expressing the value of grim survival and eking out food. I would say that if you are interested in finding new writing by women, this is very readable and transparent. One of the stories is probably SF (about post-collapse survivalism) and most of the rest are magical realism.

Review in Slate:
Many of Petrushevskaya's stories fit roughly into a category of literature that... Tzvetan Todorov calls the Fantastic—simply put: texts that cause the reader to hesitate between natural and supernatural explanations for the events described (like Henry James' The Turn of the Screw)... There is, it's true, plenty of despair here. And what happiness the characters do achieve is never of the ebullient variety. But for the reader, anyway, there's also great satisfaction in watching the characters get by—escape or "outsmart" whatever's after them, or just throw everything away and think, "That's life."
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