Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (3/5)

The back says: A masterpiece of poetic realism, Fathers and Sons received an unusually stormy reception upon its publication in 1861. Radicals perceived the novel as a crude caricature of progressivism, while the right saw it as distasteful, even dangerous glorification of nihilism. For in Bazarov, the novel’s protagonist, Turgenev creates one of the first, and one of the finest, in a long literary line of angry young men. The interaction with Bazarov with his parents, his friends and the woman he loves is fast, furious and fascinating for the psychological truths it unveils.

I say: I was unexpectedly underwhelmed by this. Somehow I thought that I was going to love it because it has all the elements that I adore; Russia, nihilism, philosophy, psychology and angry young men, but it merely left me with a sense of meh, and I fear that the main reason was that all the characters bored me.

Apart from maybe Pavel Petrovich Kirsanov.

I have this habit of never reading the back of Penguin Classics because they are usually full of spoilers, so I had no idea that Bazarov was to fall in love when I started reading this, however it became apparent disappointingly soon in the novel. A small part of me was hoping that it wouldn't go the way that I was predicting, but alas, it did. It's such a cliché; a man, who doesn't believe in anything and mocks everything, falls in love and blah blah blah.

I'm being unfair, I know.

But I don't care.

There were some interesting conversations and opinions in this novel and I quite enjoyed those bits. A lot of references to people that I may or may not research in the future, and I must say that I very much appreciated the footnotes – which they could have, as per usual, extended to all the French sentences as well.

Why doesn’t Penguin ever translate the French!?

I suppose that, more than anything, this is the type of novel that I enjoy more because of the discussions that may arise from it rather than the writing and the story, because I really don’t have anything to say about either - I've seen and heard it all before. What I have found sometimes happens when I read the classics this late in life (I’m not yet thirty but I feel ancient) is that because few of the ideas are new to me, in order for me to be impressed by something that I’ve already read a refined and distilled version of, it has to be spectacular.

And this was not spectacular.

However, it’s the first novel I’ve read by Turgenev and I will probably give him another chance because I have, quite honestly, hardly even managed to form an opinion of his writing.


  1. I found an old paperback copy of this book in some of my storage boxes last month and added it to my to read pile. Hopefully it'll appeal to me more than it did to you, though.

  2. Yes, do read it. I'd like to know what you'll think of it.

    My problem with Russian literature is that I expect to get blown away by every single book, which is a silly thing, of course. It's not a bad novel, it's just not as good as I hoped it would be. I've also found that my rating system is a bit skewed since I hold the classics (esp Russian) to a higher standard than I do other fiction.