This book was a temperamental springboard for me last year when I was hesitant to engage in anything too emotionally evocative. It certainly was a kick in the pants, after being numb with grief all winter. Never have I encountered prose that feels so sincere. What I mean by that is that often when I am reading modern fiction, I have always wondered if it was genuine. If the characters would really behave in such a manner? There has often been a sense of the fantastical about some books which has left me feeling doubtful. Not so with each of these short novellas. So I conclude from what I have read of Tolstoy so far that he was a passionate man. A man, I think, who felt everything deeply, and this is clearly shown in each story. They are not pretty little works... The people in each of these stories represent a facet of Russian culture that I have never known about, but feel that I would have an easier time understanding now. It is almost a portfolio of people from many walks of life each distinct and special in their own (terrible) way. I say terrible, because these aren't 'feel good' tales.
The hazard with his short fiction is that it comes off like a sucker punch when his longer (much much longer!) works gradually build up to the peak before leaving you awash in such feelings that take your breath away. There is no buffer before the intensity hits you. It almost has an addictive quality to it, in that you are keen to come back again for more (well... maybe not right away but eventually yes... you come back for more.). Which is what makes it feel real and true to what humankind actually is and not what some modern day authors perhaps wishes it to be. It is also the realism that makes these works so unforgettable (not so much in the words but in the emotions associated with them).
I feel a little closer to knowing the man, Tolstoy.
There is a very charming doodle of him on the cover, which makes him look like a very grumpy emu...
...don't you agree?