Saturday, 28 May 2011

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (5/5)


The back says: When the devil arrives in 1930s Moscow, consorting with a retinue of odd associates – including a talking black cat, an assassin, and a beautiful naked witch – his antics wreak havoc among the literary elite of the world capital of atheism. Meanwhile, the Master, author of an unpublished novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, languishes in despair in a psychiatric hospital, while his devoted lover, Margarita, decides to sell her soul to save him. As Bulgakhov’s dazzlingly exuberant narrative weaves back and forth between Moscow and ancient Jerusalem, studded with scenes ranging from a giddy Satanic ball to the murder of Judas in Gethsemane, Margarita’s enduring love for the Master joins the strands of plot across space and time.

I say: First of all, what is the deal with all these Russian authors burning their books? Apparently Bulgakov burned the first manuscript, then rewrote it and kept reworking it until his death. So, basically this isn’t exactly how he envisioned, it but it’s still utter perfection. Bulgakov is such an excellent writer; witty, satirical, pays great attention to detail, and masterfully manages to weave together this story of absolute madness and impossibility.

I love this book.

Really, and truly, just love it.

I had no idea what to expect when I started reading, but was slightly disappointed that I knew beforehand that the devil was the devil – it would have been nice to have started reading without that knowledge, but it is what it is. I’m trying to think of ways to give a brief plot outline without any spoilers, but I’m finding it impossible. The beauty of this novel is that in the first part we are introduced to all these characters and their encounters with the devil and the consequences, and initially I thought “ok, great.” But then when we get to the second part of the novel, everything is tied together in the most excellent of ways, and Bulgakov takes the entire story that much further.

And deeper.

I was a bit apprehensive about the whole deal with Jesus, but Bulgakov introduces that story so seamlessly in the beginning with the devil arriving in Moscow, calling himself Professor Woland, who tells the story to Berlioz and Bezdomny in order to prove to them that the devil exists. Events then take place that culminate with Bezdomny, a poet, winding up in a mental hospital when he’s trying to convince the people of Moscow that Woland is not to be trusted. It is in this hospital that we are introduced to The Master who wrote a novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, that he later burned.

While they are locked up, Woland, and the most random entourage ever created (Bulgakov must have been some type of crazy to have thought them up) go about wreaking proper havoc all over Moscow, targeting its literary elite. People lose their heads – literally – their clothes, their money and their sense.

It’s all very entertaining.

In the second part of the novel we are finally introduced to Margarita, the former lover of The Master, and how she goes about saving him.

As much as I love this novel for its absurdity and just plain crazy, there were some elements with Margarita that I could have done without. I don’t think I really understood her; she came across as a silly bint who just refused to come to terms with her own and The Master’s original fate – hence selling her soul to the devil. I was also a tad underwhelmed with the Satanic Ball, but I love the way Bulgakov depicted the devil and his posse.

Honestly, their conversations and shenanigans may have been the highlights of this book.

Surprisingly, I really loved the story (within the story) of Jesus and Pontius Pilate. I’m sure most Christians would find it blasphemous, but it was such an interesting take on his sentencing and murder and how that affected Pontius Pilate. That story alone was worth the read.


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