Skip to main content

Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsky

Horror-Sovieticus
I've thus far neglected to fill you in on my thoughts re: Metro 2033. My sincerest apologies dear reader. This I will now attempt to rectify in a manner befitting a committed (cough) reader-reviewer-blogger-type-person. 

I can't remember what prompted me to read this particular e-book, or the circumstances that made me download a copy. So much for contextual intertextuality, if there is such a thing. However, I do remember being surprised to find by the fact that there was already a sequel and that someone saw fit to code a gamer version (and a sequel to that too). I'm clearly on the ball.

As always in my experience of modern Russian fantasy / horror literature - think Max Frei or Sergei Lukyanenko - I have the distinct impression that lots of the clever Russian-ness has been left on the translator's floor. The writing feels overly elaborate in places and wilfully naive in others, and it's probable that much of the essential cultural reference is lost to someone unfamiliar with the Moscow metro system, especially the place names (although there's quite a bit of joy to be had with the frequent discussions about the renaming of stations dependent on which faction's star is waxing or waning). Also useful, before reading, would be a basic understanding of Soviet history, from at least the 19th Century of the Tsars through the October Revolution right up to present day Russian capitalism as no-one has the courtesy to do a quick executive summary at any point, despite the many patronising asides about various periods of history.

To deal with matters of scene setting, what I found was a post-apocalyptic Moscow where the remaining non-radiation-mutated populace lived in the metro system and trade or fight each other (along old political and ideological lines) and also defend against the waves of "dark ones", mutants who invade the tunnels ostensibly to wreak havoc and generally kill and maim people, in addition to making some go mad from the tunnel fever. It's the usual fight for survival narrative, with an interesting if slightly daft twist at the end. I shan't spoil it for you, even though it's a little obvious past about midway.

Still, Glukhovsky gets in plenty of licks about the heads of men of faith, the equally ridiculed proponents of diametrically opposed fatalism and determinism, and the idiots residing at every stop on the metro line of the political spectrum, whilst also pushing out lots of sentences brim-full of claustrophobia, hidden terror and hopelessness. It's not a bad book, and by all accounts, serves as a useful critical allegory of almost any political belief system you care to name. He's not fussy. In some respects it reminds me of that Dara Ó Briain line:
Right now I would take homeopaths and I'd put them in a big sack with psychics, astrologers and priests. And I'd close the top of the sack with string, and I'd hit them all with sticks. And I really wouldn't be bothered who got the worst of the belt of the sticks.
And, he clearly can't be blamed for the translation and editing, unless of course he did it himself, in which case he deserves a bit of ridicule too. All in all, it's a worthwhile read - atmospheric, entertaining if overly long - and anyway, I should not be overly critical. I think it was Vonnegut who said, of literary critics bent on venting spleen:

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.

Comments

How's about that then?

The Headmaster's Wife by T. C. Greene

I bought this on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect if not always agree with, and also as it was an Amazon daily deal I felt that 99p or whatever it cost was not too much to risk. I have become a little narrow in the field of what I choose to read and welcomed the digression offered. Subsequently, I feel a little hoodwinked. 
T.C. Greene’s previous book, Mirror Lake is one of those books that, as a former bookseller, I knew was there, would expect it to be propping up the centre of a table of multi-buy contemporary fiction, but had absolutely no desire to read whatsoever. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I disagree, given the time and effort spent by designers and publishers to ensure that any given book looks as similar as possible to the best-seller in any given genre. Mirror Lake enjoyed my ignorant prejudice for a good many months for this very reason. Of course, until I’d bought The Headmaster’s Wife I had no idea that the two Greenes were o…

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Often, intertextual inertia must give way to old promises and the making good thereof. In the case of Chester Himes, who I’d rescued from the clearance bin in Waterstone’s Cardiff before the summer, the paying of deserved respect was long overdue. I have a very soft spot for genre fiction, particularly when the content is framed quite so elegantly as that of Chester Himes’ Harlem cycle. Apologists justifiably present him as the Black American literary complement to white contemporaries and genre luminaries Chandler and Hammett, and from a personal perspective, his marriage of svelte prose and acute observation is as pleasing on the eye as anything from either author or other renowned pulp novelists like John D MacDonald. To my mind, Himes is particularly tasty bubble-gum for the brain. Of the verisimilitude of his characters I cannot comment. Harlem in the forties and fifties is as far removed from Cardiff in the ‘teens as I can possibly imagine (I sell myself short of course, but you g…