Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
Well, guys, I tried to do it – I tried to read that book I mentioned three weeks ago. I gave it as much of a shot as I possibly could, but I didn’t make it past page 168 of Simon Montefiore’s Sashenka, a book that is ostensibly about one woman’s struggles through the rise and fall of Russian communism, but which is actually one man’s struggle to figure out what the hell he wanted to write about in the first place. It’s my understanding that Mr. Montefiore has written a number of non-fiction works about this piece of Russia’s history – and his ability to capture the feel of the time period is certainly masterful – but he struggles to follow the number one rule of writing fiction: show, don’t tell.
Whenever Montefiore has the opportunity to show us a character’s morality or mindset, he tells us in dry narration instead; when he has the opportunity to show a character’s hesitation or reluctance, he tells us in staid dialogue instead; when he has the opportunity to show us Russia falling into riot and revolution, he tells us in long, meandering paragraphs instead.
He has too many characters populating the first chapters of the novel, making it impossible to sympathize with, let alone like, any of them. He has subplot upon subplot involving Jewish businessmen, Rasputin’s inner circle, corrupt policemen, tittering school girls, street urchins… On and on and on. Furthermore, his main character, Sashenka, switches so quickly between two points of view – “I want to be a Bolshevik!” and “Revolution is scary; I want to go home!” respectively – that she feels almost schizophrenic. The only real spark of passion in the novel comes in the form of the romantic cat-and-mouse game played by revolutionary Sashenka and bored police-officer Sagan. It’s such a shame that passion disappears when *SPOILER* Sagan is killed on page 168, and not in a dramatic, heart-wrenching manner. Do you see why I quit on that particular page, now?
Perhaps the novel picked up steam after that. After all, I didn’t make it all the way through the rise of communism let alone its fall, so I only experienced a small fraction of Sashenka’s story. Perhaps a new relationship arises out of the ashes of the old to give some drama back to the novel, but I’m not willing to slog through paragraph upon paragraph and chapter upon chapter of saturated narration to find out.
If the reviewers and commenters on the internet are to be believed, Mr. Montefiore is a wonderful author of non-fiction despite his struggles with fiction, and it’s certainly not my intention to sneer at anyone who has actually managed to finish a novel (I’ve been working on one for seven years now, and I’m nowhere near done). Still, this is not a masterpiece and I cannot recommend it.
Since this is such a short post this week, I want to get your all’s feedback on you experience with books like Sashenka: what books have you read recently that you had to fight to get through? Or which ones have you given up on in disgust? In contrast, what books have captured your attention so completely you couldn’t put them down?