Wednesday, 24 February 2010


A couple of years ago, I read my first Official Work Of Russian Literature. Crime and Punishment it was, by one Fyodor Dostoevsky. My misspent youth was wasted reading NME articles about Pop Will Eat Itself or the latest friggin' Adidas trainers the hip kids were wearing down the Portobello Road in The Face (Shoreditch wasn't cool back then kids). I had loads to catch up on if I was going to contribute to any bohemian intellectual dinner party conversation.

Evidently, the book was a pain-free experience. Indeed, I loved it. Maybe War and Peace wasn't that fabled nightmare summer reading assignment The Kids had always dreaded? Raskolnikov seemed like the ultimate anti hero with his manically existential wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth over his dastardly murderous deeds. If redemption through suffering was the theme of Dostoevsky's work poor old Raskolnikov seemed to be in for one hell of a philosophical awakening.

In the summer of 2008, I met a 46 year-old flame-headed Westminster gentleman for a blind date in a (mercifully) dimly lit Covent Garden cellar bar. Apart from his abundant nasal hair, nonchalant yarns of policy-making trips to Brussels and polite enquiries into my art-buying practices...the main thing I recall of this curious man was his declaration that Anna Karenina was his favorite book. Not just Official Work of Russian Literature but All-Time Top of the Pops Bog Read.

My ginger Gilbert and George date never made it to round two but I did seek out Tolstoy on the advice of this cultured Svengali. Anna Karenina was even more impressive than Crime and Punishment primarily in the sense that its themes seemed more accessible, relevant and universal. Chaotic sexual passion, infidelity, the pressure of societal expectations and the idealisation of rural life were all passionately played out within the mise-en-scene of pre-Revolutionary Russia, so alien to my own experience and thus, utterly compelling. Anna however - like the classic film noir heroine - must be punished for her sins and meets her bloody end under the 3.49 to Petersburg (or something). Of course, had Tolstoy devised any less dramatic a finale Anna Karenina would not be considered the literary phenomenon it is today. Just once though, wouldn't it be cool if the non-conformist female, the woman of mad and monumental passion, the sexual prey to the patriarchal ruling class did not have to fall off the metaphorical cliff (or literally for Picnic at Hanging Rock's Miranda) in a blaze of tragic glory?
All images courtesy of Google

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