День опричника (Den’ oprichnika) Vladimir Sorokin

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OK so if you concentrate hard you can work out the year is 2027 and Russia is hiding behind a wall and has even returned to the days of Ivan the Terrible and his oprichnina (secret police? private army?)  We follow one day in the life of Andrei Komyaga, who is second-in-command of the new oprichnina of the new Sovereign who has restored Russia’s pride by getting rid of things like foreign travel and a choice of goods in the shops.  An excessive choice in any shops.  You can choose from two sorts of anything in traditional Russian kiosks.  Apart from there only being one type of cheese.  Also the Sovereign has at least partly banned swearing and drunkenness, which is rather a change from the times of Ivan IV.

In general, I found the thing rather good-natured by Sorokin’s standards.  It’s difficult to alienate the reader’s sympathy in a first-person narrative, and apart from gang-raping the disgraced nobleman’s wife at the beginning (and I suppose hallucinating about raping an American woman while transformed into a conjoint dragon with the rest of his band) he didn’t do much I disapproved of.  Corruption…court intrigue…carrying on court intrigue with the help of dark forces and a crippled clairvoyante…SA-style homosexual orgies with the help of improved Chinese penises…killing formerly important people no longer desired by the Sovereign…all in a day’s work really.

The Sovereign seemed remarkably mild in many ways for a Russian leader of any stamp, never mind a new Ivan IV.  I rather enjoyed the fake-Old-Russian language  with its simple declarative sentences and merisms in place of stilted abstractions, and there were even some sightings of the vocative case!

But the dystopian future portrayed here was like Heaven by comparison with the ‘realistic’ present in Yuri Buyda’s latest offering, and I think Sorokin does the same kind of thing rather better in Goluboe salo where there is some genuine bitterness and shock value, not to mention extensive swearing and drunkenness, and a much better hook to hang his beloved parodies and pastiches on.

This was another example of the typical Sorokin Chinese takeaway:  you consume it avidly–he is a very good writer at putting the words on the page so that you want to know what happens next–and then you wonder: Was that all?

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