If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” I won’t be able to participate in Dewey’s Read-a-ton after all, a friend is visiting right on that weekend 😦 It will be lovely to see her again, but what a disappointment, I was so looking forward to the sleepless night! Now I’ll have to wait until April for the next edition. Leeswammes, I hope you’ll find someone else on this time zone who can support you.

On the other hand, I’m still a part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Elizabeth Gaskell’s birth. One lucky commenter will win a copy of an unabridged edition of North and South by Naxos AudioBooks read by Clare Willie. The winner will be selected among all the people who during that day comment on the participants’ blogs. Full list here.

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Chekhov: hummm I don’t know… Russian literature is not really my thing.

But!

Fry: he could read the phone book and it would still be interesting.

So I gave it a try and was agreeably surprised. Fry’s characterful narration is the perfect complement to Chekhov’s bitter-sweet stories. The Russian melancholy and introspection was there but the language was beautiful and surprisingly accessible – translator Constance Garnet did a great job. Stephen Fry is my favorite reader and listening to him now made me want to go through the Harry Potter audiobooks all over again. I know that in the States they were read by Jim Dale (he was great on Pushing Daisies and on the Around the World in 80 Days audiobook), but I cannot imagine Hagrid with any voice other than the one Fry gives him.

For this Chekhov compilation, Fry chose these 7 stories:

An Avenger (my favorite)
Fyodor Fyodorovitch Sigaev plans to kill his adulterous wife and goes into Schmuck and Co.’s (lol!), the gunsmiths, to select a suitable revolver. He is determined, he is unmovable, but an extraordinary conversation with the shop keeper slowly makes him change his plan. For the fellow Janeites out there: do you remember that brilliant conversation in Sense & Sensibility between the Dashwoods’ brother and his wife about how much income he would give them? An Avenge is like that, but with a good dose of Russian black humour.

A Blunder
A mother and father plan to bust into a private conversation between their daughter and one of her suitors. They will wave an icon above the couple’s heads and the suitor will have no way to escape a marriage thus blessed. You won’t be able to keep a straight face when you know the results…

Boys
I’m ready to bet money that this story really happened and that Chekhov was the main protagonist. Velodya returns to his family home from school and brings a friend. While enjoying the warm welcome, the two boys are plotting to run away from home to join California’s Gold Rush.

The Huntsman
This story is one single conversation between the rascal Yeagor Vlasic and a peasant woman he was forced to marry many years ago. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s griping. According to Wikipedia, Dmitry Grigorovich, a celebrated Russian writer of the day, wrote to Chekhov after reading this story: “You have real talent—a talent which places you in the front rank among writers in the new generation.”

The Lady and the Dog
The longest story is a love story. Gurov, a middle-aged Moscovite, does not love his wife and has constant affairs. While in Yalta he meets Anna Sergeyevna. He seduces her, makes her love him but when they part he’s already ready to move on. However, Anna unexpectedly keeps hunting his thoughts and dreams – he simply can’t stop thinking about her. He then realises something extraordinary: for the first time in his life, he’s in love.. and he needs to see her again.

My favorite thing about reading short-stories is how they produce such powerful endings. If it’s well made, they can give you an emotional hit that make you stand quietly for a while to absorb it. This story’s ending was exactly like that.

Misery
A cabman called Iona is mourning for his son who die a week ago. He’s sad and trying to cope, he wants to speak about it desperately, but no one around him listens. The story is about Eona trying to find empathy and solace among his clients. This was also one of my favorites.

“Cabman, are you married?” asks one of the tall ones.

“I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now is the damp earth. . . . He-ho-ho!. . . .The grave that is! . . . Here my son’s dead and I am alive. . . . It’s a strange thing, death has come in at the wrong door. . . . Instead of coming for me it went for my son. . . .”

And Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at that point the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces that, thank God! they have arrived at last.

Oyster
And to end on a happy note – not! – the starving 8-year-old son of a beggar is standing at the door of a restaurant and sees a sign saying ‘Oysters’. He asks his father what they are and immediately starts fantasizing about what it would be like to eat them. Passers-by hear him and decide to take him into the restaurant and feed him real oysters. Again, unexpected results follow.

It was a great introduction to Chekhov and Fry does not disappoint. I might check out Chekhov’s plays next. It you know someone who, like me, is Russian-lit-resistant, these short-stories are a great way to make them re-think their attitude  🙂

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