Author: Evgenji Vodolazkin
Genre: Fiction / historical fiction
Rating: 1 / 5
I know the one star rating looks bad, and I don’t think this is a BAD book; but, as the stars say, I “did not like it.” I was drawn in by the cover art, I suppose, and also the idea that this was a deep, character-driven myth-steeped novel with themes like redemption, time, human connection, etc. Which, I guess, isn’t completely inaccurate, it’s just that where I would usually like those things, it didn’t work for me here.
I suppose the simplest way of describing this story is that it is set in the Russia of the Middle Ages and it follows the life of one character from infancy to death.
It’s divided into four sections. For me, the first section was the best. The second section is called “The Book of Renunciation” and that’s kind of exactly what it made me want to do: renounce the book. It got better after that section, and yet I still feel I would have been better served–had a more enjoyable as well as more enlightening time–if I had just watched a few episodes of Riverdale instead.
I’m not entirely sure what was so lacking for me in this book, but I will note that although we follow this main character for 350+ pages, I never really “got” him, like I don’t know what he’s actually like or feels or thinks, beyond just like “Ustina I love you” and “o God I am not worthye” type of stuff. Which, well, meh. In this, I guess it is kind of true to those fairy tales where everyone is like a cardboard cutout character. It works better when the story is 3 pages long, though. When stories stretch into the hundreds of pages, the characters should maybe make me feel something?
But I think the author was going in a different direction, and the book had a similar brainfeel (readerfeel? what’s the literary equivalent of mouthfeel?) as Candide, Siddhartha, and other such fictional didactic works (which I did enjoy when I read them, but also, I was like 14 or 15; maybe if this book had gotten to me at an earlier, more impressionable age, I would have a better view of it). But the thing there is, I didn’t feel like it was effective. It was like I knew what he was trying to get at, but he didn’t make me realize it–the humanity or truth of his characters and his ideas never felt real to me. It didn’t add much to my knowledge or understanding. Which on one level is fine: I do read to learn new things, see new perspectives on humanity, and expand my horizons, but I also read for entertainment, enjoyment, a good story. For me, this didn’t qualify for any of that.
I think this book would have been an interesting one to discuss with others–especially because the average Goodreads rating stands at 4.26 right now. Obviously many people got a lot more out of it than I did. Discussing a book I didn’t really like that much with others (especially those who have differing views of it) usually raises my opinion of it, so I’m kind of disappointed that this wasn’t a book club or buddy read. Too often the book felt tedious and lacking real depth, and talking about it with others can be antidote for that. Alas, Laurus, I read you by myself, where you had free reign to annoy me just a few too many times.