“There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby”

There Once Lived a Woman

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

The first English-translated collection from prominent Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, selected and translated by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers. I read a 2009 Penguin paperback (from the library).

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3 out of 5 stars (average).

Times Read: 1

The Introduction explains: From over a hundred stories we chose pieces with a common fantastic or mystical element (…) The stories in this volume were composed over the last thirty-plus years, but many of them are from the past decade (p.x).

As an entry to Petrushevskaya’s writing, this may have been a mistake. The collection becomes repetitive in mood and execution with a majority of stories ending on “it was all a dream”/ “dead the whole time” motifs. Full-on dream logic is frustrating; if anything can happen at any moment, there’s no tension other than wondering when the protagonist will realize they are asleep/dead. Also, unfortunately, some stories feel like confusing translations rather than an expression of Petrushevskaya’s style.

The language and plots have a timeless simplicity, making most stories feel like they could exist anywhere in the 19th or 20th century, but then Petrushevskaya surprises with the occasional reference to a cassette tape player or cell phone.

There are gems in here and most stories work on their own, it’s putting them up against so many of the same that weakens them. But the stories are so short that the duds breeze by. Continue reading

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“Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales”

Revenge 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

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Yoko Ogawa’s 1998 novel built with short stories. I read my library’s 2013 Picador paperback translated by Stephen Snyder.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1.

The Plot:

Eleven first-person stories interweave to tell the dark events of a city.

Ogawa builds her stories on refreshingly simple language; short and to the point with touches of darkness, poignancy and surrealism. The reality within the fiction is challenged in fascinating ways (some stories are “written” by other characters, but those fictional characters interact with other “real” ones). It has a clever Pulp Fiction vibe without feeling showy or derivative.

An interesting thing about Ogawa’s style, which I didn’t notice until typing these notes: no characters are given names. At most we have a “Mrs. J” and “Dr. Y.” Otherwise, Ogawa sticks to simple pronouns or family positions (he, the woman, the father, her son, etc), which adds to the campfire, ghost story feel.

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