[originally posted at Mudd Up!]
[Татья́на Ники́тична Толста́я]
For this month’s Mudd Up Book Clubb, we have a very special selection — Tatyana Tolstaya’s The Slynx. It is the only novel I’ve ever read which is both laugh-out-loud funny *and* has given me nightmares. Amazing.
Some people call it a dystopia, and true – The Slynx does take place in Moscow about 200 years after an unspecified Blast has knocked everyone back to Stone Age level amenities – but Tolstaya’s prose is luminous, alive, bursting with a belief in language’s power to create worlds, which is precisely what this book does. Textual pleasures surround the tale of a quasi-literate copyist in the era of Degenerators…
What is The Slynx concerned with? Food, catastrophe, body jokes, gorgeous prose, xerox machines after the apocalypse, social hierarchies, books, melted canonicity, mice-as-currency, etc.
You might recognize the translator, Jamey Gambrell, from a previous book clubb selection, Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy. Her Slynx translation is another impressive work, as the novel is peppered with malapropisms, mutant references to Russian literature, and conversations in a range of voices. These two novels are some of the best I’ve read in a long time, but I should mention that Sorokin and Tolstaya are extremely different writers; all the more power to Gambrell for articulating each into English with such elegant specificity. (While we’re talking translators, tune in to last Wednesday’s Mudd Up! for a special show with Arabic literature translator Humphrey Davies, recorded in Cairo).
The Mudd Up Book Clubb will meet on Sunday May 27th at 5pm for lively discussion followed by micemeat pies.
Here’s an excerpt from the opening pages:
Benedikt pulled on his felt boots, stomped his feet to get the fit right, checked the damper on the stove, brushed the bread crumbs onto the floor–for the mice–wedged a rag in the window to keep out the cold, stepped out the door, and breathed the pure, frosty air in through his nostrils. Ah, what a day! The night’s storm had passed, the snow gleamed all white and fancy, the sky was turning blue, and the high elfir trees stood still. Black rabbits flitted from treetop to treetop. Benedikt stood squinting, his reddish beard tilted upward, watching the rabbits. If only he could down a couple–for a new cap. But he didn’t have a stone.
It would be nice to have the meat, too. Mice, mice, and more mice–he was fed up with them.
Give black rabbit meat a good soaking, bring it to boil seven times, set it in the sun for a week or two, then steam it in the oven–and it won’t kill you.
That is, if you catch a female. Because the male, boiled or not, it doesn’t matter. People didn’t used to know this, they were hungry and ate the males too. But now they know: if you eat the males you’ll be stuck with a wheezing and a gurgling in your chest the rest of your life. Your legs will wither. Thick black hairs will grow like crazy out of your ears and you’ll stink to high heaven.
Benedikt sighed: time for work.