I wrote a review earlier in the year for one novella out of this collection ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” since that was being made into a movie and I wanted to get ahead of the game. But then I never saw that movie, so who knows.
Anyway, here’s the rest of the collection. There’s a bunch of longish stories in this book and a handful of much shorter ones. The title story is about 120 pages long and the shortest is like nine, so there’s a mix for sure.
The stories here are mostly folkish in form, meaning that they take place slightly off the civic and metropolitan life. They are similar to those same-kind stories of Gogol or similar Russian writers. I get the impression from these and those stories that the various metropole of Russia are stark compared to the surrounding rural settings. This makes sense, given the size of the country.
The stories are often weird, violent, funny, and sad. They very often have Leskov himself stepping in as a narrator who recalls a story, hears a story, or is told a story and then presents himself as a kind of storyteller, but more so hapless observer. In a lot of ways, these stories remind me as much of some Henry James as of any other Russian storyteller. There’s an awareness of world literature (as you might find in Chekhov or Turgenev), there’s a self-awareness that sometimes shows up in Henry James stories (there’s one in which one of the characters is reading Daisy Miller) and this collection there’s stories where the characters are aware of other stories by Leskov. And so the effect is a more closed in world.
It comes across quite clearly how much the world is missing the great Leskov novel. These are good stories, but they’re not epic by any stretch. And there’s a kind of rule I found myself falling into with this collection, the shorter the story, the closer I paid attention. When you have 120 pages to stretch out, I found myself drifting here and there.