The joy of reading

Marc Chagall's Flying lovers
As regular Bookhounders will know I had a bad time with my last read, the dreadful Past imperfect. So bad was it that I had to return to my very favourite book just to remind me what good reading is all about. Probably like most people at different points in my life different books have been favourites. Some remain still high in my list of desert island books, while others have been, if not forgotten, relegated to lesser favourites, while others I have had a complete change of heart. For the last few years however my favourite has been the wonderful Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov - last reviewed on here some time ago.

This is a great novel to read if you've had a bad book experience. Bulgakov's prose has a great verve to it, it's a delight to read, a glorious life-affirming book. Re-reading it, what strikes me this time round besides the beauty of the writing is the humour of the book - it is very funny in an anarchic completely zany way. And there are some wonderful quotes : "Dostoevsky is dead" says the citizeness..."I object" exclaims Behemoth hotly "Dostoevsky is immortal." Much of the novel reflects on the work and purpose of a writer living and working within a repressive regime; a regime in which to be a writer you need a certificate to prove it irrespective of your actual ability - as Behemoth also points out Dostoevsky was definitely a writer, even though he didn't have a certificate.

The humour is well contrasted with a very dark background. The devil may be on the loose in Moscow, but the real evil is of a much more human variety with secret police stalking the streets, dissidents condemned to lunatic asylums, and the disappearance of unnamed citizens to lonely anonymous deaths in labour camps.

It could be a grim read, that it isn't is thanks to Bulgakov's power as a writer, and the resilience of the human spirit enshrined in Margarita, who becomes a sort of Russian everywoman, who will go to any lengths to save the man she loves - the eponymous Master. Stuffed full of memorable quotes and characters with some wonderfully zany humour, this is the kind of book that every time you read it you find something fresh and different that you had failed to notice before. It is quite simply one of the best books ever written.


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