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Futility: A Novel on Russian Themes [Paperback]

William Gerhardie
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: 12.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

21 Aug 2008

This is the first novel by William Gerhardie, first published in 1922, and it was made famous by H. G. Wells, who described it as 'true, devastating - a wonderful book'.

Based on Gerhardie's own experiences as a member of the British Military Mission to Siberia shortly after the October Revolution, Futility paints a picture of contemporary Russian society which deserves comparison with the writing of Chekhov. At the centre of the story is Nicolai Vasilievich, who trails across Russia in the wake of the British Mission in the perpetual and unrealistic hope of seeing his fortunes improve, even though they steadily deteriorate. In counterpoint to Nicolai's comic progression, Gerhardie tells the story of his narrator's hopeless love for Nina, the second of Nicolai's three bewitching adolescent daughters.

'William Gerhardie is one of our immortals. He is our Gogol's Overcoat. We all came out of him.' Olivia Manning

'He is a comic writer of genius ... but his art is profoundly serious.' C. P. Snow

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Product details

  • Paperback: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber (21 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571244416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571244416
  • Product Dimensions: 21.2 x 13.4 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,909,822 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

William Alexander Gerhardie was born in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1895. As a young man he went to London and, when the First World War broke out, joined the army. He was first sent to Russia and later travelled the world before beginning to write. Futility (1922), his first novel, was sponsored by Katherine Mansfield, and other notable works of his include The Polyglots (1925) and Of Mortal Love (1936). Gerhardie's writing was acclaimed as an influence on many of his peers, including Anthony Powell, H. G. Wells, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Olivia Manning. He died in London in 1977.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetical and thought provoking 14 July 2010
I'm writing a quick review because no-one else has and I feel, after just finishing the novel, that it deserves a positive comment. The book follows the life of an english man in Russia through the war and revolution. It centers around his relationship with an extended Russian family, all dependant upon the father Nikolai, and his hopes of one day making money from a gold mine he owns. The story revolves around a romance between our narrator and one of the daughters of the family. The backdrop is Russia, both its seasons, landscape and the futility of revolutionary bloodshed.
The book asks, do we live our lives, or do our lives live us? The protagonists of the story are swept along by events of which they have little control, but hoping that things will get better, some time in the future. This happens on the large scale to Russia itself, and on the smaller scale to our hero who cannot quite make the right effort at the right time, and whose hopes pass by.
It has the feel of a Russian novel but also reminded me (a bit)of T S Eliot.
It asks many existential questions without being dry or intellectual. It is well written and easy to approach. Most of all, though being set in an historical setting and being semi-autobiographical, the themes of the book are just as relevant now.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gerhardie must be in stitches! 17 Mar 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
No, this is not The Wreck of the Titan, this is the brilliant tragicomedy of Russian life that has inspired so much laughter, tears, and admiration since it was first published in the 1920's. As the subject is the comic hopelessness of love and success, I'm sure the author is very amused (posthumously)to find it mistaken for a book about a shipwreck in all of these reviews. But if you end up here, by mistake or not, do read this book, because it is horribly funny and poignant and true.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Odd & So-So 23 Dec 2012
By G. Charles Steiner - Published on Amazon.com
This novel is part farce, part whimsical, part comedic and, in part, profound but not terribly profound such that it impresses one as some kind of overlooked national treasure, no. An Englishman born of Russian parents (like the author) visits Russia and encounters three sisters, one of whom he slowly falls in love with, and encounters their father as well as the sisters' mother, step-mother, and a whole host of odd relatives and acquaintances.

There isn't much of a plot. The development of the story is episodic and occasional and at about 150 pages in, while the story continues now in Siberia, the reader soon feels utterly adrift in a morass of trivial details that lead nowhere, except that sometimes even moments in a Siberian winter there can be some comedy, however dreary.

In part, the story wanting to be told is that life is plotless and no philosophy can ever give its shoddy aspects any substantial meaning, particularly so long as we have the Bolsheviks always surrounding us and trying to steal our property and our money. This "moral" is all done at an often breathless comedic speed but not consistently so, which, in part, is also part of the "moral," I suppose.

The author writes well, has a good painter's talent for description, and the story, as a whole, has form and structure, although it could have withstood something culling to make it stronger than it is. Insofar as the author's awareness of how international political events are created, dealt with and decided, this reader found him scathingly if absolutely on target and correct. Who has the strength and a plan to destroy Bolshevism and Bolsheviks?f No one in the novel. Without such a solution, the novel seems to say, we all wait to live and spend our lives waiting to live -- as best we can (for those who survive). Ha-ha.
5.0 out of 5 stars Now I've actually read the book, its wonderful 27 Mar 2004
By Seamus Sweeney - Published on Amazon.com
Now I've read it, I recommend - nay, DEMAND - that every man woman and children in the English speaking world reads this brilliant novel. Waugh said "I have talent, while he has genius" - having read Doom and The Polyglots since, this shows that genius at its best. Highly recommended (obviously) - readers who enjoy Anthony Powell and Waugh will particularly love Gerhardie.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not Morgan Robertson's "Wreck of the Titan" 14 April 2001
By Seamus Sweeney - Published on Amazon.com
I actually haven't read the book, but came here on foot of a recommendation from William Boyd in the Times Literary Supplement. This is not Morgan Robertson's "Futility - the Wreck of the Titan" - as other reviewers seem to think!
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paranormal? 3 Dec 2000
By "mowglee" - Published on Amazon.com
I was told of this book by a friend who claimed that it told the story of the ill fated ship - Titanic but it was wrtten 14 years before Titanic sailed. Strangely enough he was correct. Though the plot is ordinary by today's standards, the eerie feelinge once gets in noticing the similarities between Titanic and th story in this book ensures a top rating.
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