Friday, October 23, 2009

Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov

I knew nothing about this writer and novel, until it was recently brought to my attention. Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov (1812-1891) was a servant in the Russian government. In his free time he wrote novels and essays. Goncharov is thought to be his best.

Russian novels fail to ever disappoint me, and this book was no exception to that rule. The story follows Ilya Ilyitch Oblomov (what a great surname!) and details his utterly hopeless irresolution. In one part of the book he is likened to Hamlet, unable to be a man of action and usefulness. The main difference to Hamlet is that Oblomov is more of a comedy. The backflap of the Everyman hardback I read described it as a ‘Sluggard’s Comedy’, and I think this describes the book well.

The marvellous thing about Oblomov is the relentless psychological detail. The first hundred and twenty pages merely describes Omblomov lying in bed, dreading all the minor domestic details that he must attend to. If you’ve ever felt a dread in the morning, not wanting to go to work, or attend that meeting, or simply experienced that anxious knot in your stomach at the prospect of having to go out into the world, then you’ll relate to Omblomov’s groans and turning to the wall in search of some escapist fantasy.

The paradox struck me when reading though: is Goncharov describing himself, his own frequent dolorous moods in the morning, his own inertia? If so it’s ironic seeing it must have taken so much energy to write this novel.

A brilliant, effervescent novel of psychological realism. Thanks to Mr Chris Hubbard and the president of the Arden Valley Russian Literature Appreciation Society, Ms. S. Whiskers, for this reading suggestion.

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