Sunday, March 17, 2013

Love Stories - Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Or to give it it's full title 'There Once Lived A Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories'. I found  'There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbours Baby' very rewarding so was really pleased to see another collection of Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's stories, even more so because these turned out to be both moving and accessible examinations of love and bitterness. 

In the introduction Anna Summers (who I think is the translator here as well) talks about the Russian word byt, from being, and pertaining to the circumstances of everyday life. In this case all the crap of everyday life. These stories have been picked from Petrushevskaya's whole writing life from her first published story in 1972 up to one from 2008 published in a collection to celebrate her seventieth birthday. Without knowing the dates of the stories it's hard to tell which come from the soviet era and which are later. It doesn't really matter because Petrushevskaya doesn't directly discuss politics. Her's are not stories of knocks on the door in the middle of the night or of labour camps, but of the everyday drudge of domestic life lived often in poverty and always in cramped, claustrophobic conditions where the greatest luxury imaginable might very well be private space - a room of one's own. 

With this in mind it's no surprise that the love that has the best chance of survival is that of a mother for her child - claustrophobia destroys the affection between couples, and makes children impatient with their parents, but however fragile it is love, and sex, give life some other purpose than the business of getting through the days. Indirectly this is political - the housing shortage is a key element in every story and there are surely political implications to that, though another truth is surely that for most people nothing changes regardless of regime. 

The first story 'A Murky Fate' covers a mere 3 pages and tells of an unmarried woman in her 30's who implores her mother to go out for the night so she can bring home a fat balding married man some 10 years her senior. He leaves assuming that that's it - an unromantic encounter if ever there was one, but next day the woman cries with joy, knowing that there's nothing but pain and disappointment ahead for her doesn't matter - now she has something. I find this heartening. 


  1. Can't wait to read this collection! I haven't read anything by Petrushevskaya yet (although I know Polly @ Novel Insights raved about her earlier collection) so it's exciting to discover someone new!

  2. Just wanted to say this is a great blog! I've only read a few posts but I have now added Thank Heaven Fasting and the The SemiAttached Couple to my reading lists. And I think I will have to end this Russian writer as well. I don't know how you find this stuff.

  3. Aah, thank you Emma, you make me blush!