Rummaging outside a bookshop recently (one shortly to feature in my series of blogs about bookshops) I found one of those little green Penguin Modern Classics of the 1970s, William Gerhardie's Futility. This book was first published in 1922 and the author was born in Russia of English parents which gives it the special flavour of a Russian novel. Although he advertises at the beginning that: "The 'I' of this book is not me", the story clearly draws on his own experience. Set around the time of the Russian Revolution it is both comic in its delineation of a vast extended family of hangers-on and spongers, dependent on Nikolai Vasilievich and the vaporous promise of his gold mines, and sad in its expression of the failure of the young narrator to win the beautiful and skittish Nina, middle of three sisters. Everyone waits for something to happen and nothing does and the humour is gentle and subtle, the mood bitter-sweet and the writing original and exact. A very pleasant discovery.
Wednesday, 8 April 2009
William Gerhardie: the Pleasures of Accidental Discovery
When you are reaching the end of a long period of research on a book with masses of highly-targeted reading, it's one of life's great pleasures to discover when you were least expecting it, something absolutely new and unexpected and gratuitous.