This is my first review of this quite bizarre and quite wonderful book, “The Master and Margarita”. I say wonderful even though I have no idea whether it truly is wholly so, but it’s almost irrelevant, right now I can happily report that it is quite wonderful to read, even though I can’t confess to be entirely enjoying it.

What I’m intending to do is review each separate bit that I read, partly as a way to give myself momentum to KEEP GOING with it. It’s hard work, believe me, it’s… well, I’ll explain why later. Anyway, hopefully doing the reviews this way gives it a chance since it is a book of changing moods, styles and stories. At this point, I’ve read 40 pages. The other reason to do it is it gives me a chance to think about books, stories, tales of mystery, in a different way. Makes me stop and think and disparate points rather than ploughing on and considering the tale only at the end. That’s otherwise what I do and it seems kinda daft.

OK, so, to the story. This being the first chapter of my review I need to give some background of the book. The Master and Margarita first drew me to it because of the wonderful cover of the book. It has a cat, a black cat, a bespectacled black cat… oh, I’m going to stop there BUT the cat is also smoking a cigar and playing cards. Fantastic! The novel is written by Russian Mikhail Bulgakov. It is a satire, by all accounts, and in my reading of it so far can be desperately funny and beautifully absurd. The book, by all accounts, has quite a weird history; apparently the first draft of the book was destroyed for dubious reasons, and the final draft was completed by Bulgakov’s wife after his death. Then, after its release was censored to hell, the devil knows why (that is a bad joke based on the first few bad jokes referencing the devil in the first few pages of the book). Obviously the version I’m reading is an interpretation into English and has been completed by two separate interpreters.

The book starts with a poet and a journalist discussing the former’s current employ by the latter to produce an atheistic poem about Jesus. At which point a “foreigner” arrives who starts to tell them about how he knows that Jesus did exist, and a chapter is devoted to a flashback of Pontius Pilate’s introduction to Jesus of Nazareth. It’s actually quite fun, the historical details, Jesus’ apparent words and actions are all rather interesting and the juxtaposition of the chapters is amusing and quite enthralling.

Then it starts to get a little odd. The “foreigner” starts to get all spooky and predicts the future. Only 35 pages or so in and actually I was quite attached to the poet and the journalist so…

[SPOILER ALERT]
… it’s quite weird when one of them is decapitated. End of story for the journalist. But the important thing is that the odd sequence of events that leads to the beheading is predicted by the foreigner. The poet, quite freaked out, starts to chase after the foreigner who is joined by another bizarre gentleman and… a big, walking cat.
[/SPOILER ALERT]

Personally I’m finding the reading of it all quite difficult. Clearly there’s a fair amount of interpretation going on and it shows, frankly, in the way the humour in particular is interpreted. I have a feeling, and this is a good thing, that some of the humour has been either over-played or under-played. It’s silly in places and I get the feeling that it’s supposed to be, that the original is, but somehow it doesn’t work in English. The other major difficulty I have is that the names are also quite difficult to follow. I know, I’m a pathetic Englishman who can’t remember long complicated foreign names… but it’s true! I can’t! Especially when the characters also have Russian nicknames that are used intermittently.

Anyway, that’s where I’m up to. I’m happy to carry on, though I must admit it’s hard work. Loving the weirdness though :)

Cover: 10/10
Introduction to the story: 8/10
Story so far: 9/10

Overall, I’m giving the first 40 pages a very devilish 9/10

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