Chekhov, when all is said and done, is my favourite writer. I have - as has the author of this gem of a book - visited his house and garden in Yalta, which also contains a fine museum to his memory. It was poignant and moving to tread floorboards that my hero had walked on, not to mention his friends Bunin, Gorky, Tolstoy, Rachmaninov...
At least one reviewer appears to slight this book for being less than he expected. What did he expect? Janet Malcolm never `writes the same book twice` and here she has gone on a real journey in Chekhov`s footsteps, bringing back something of the spirit of that good man, rather than a conventional biography.
Quite rightly she concentrates on the stories as her jumping-off points, which are perhaps - even now, despite so many excellent translations by Wilks, Bartlett, Miles & Pitcher, and others - not as well-known as the plays.
What Malcolm does is send one racing back to her inspiration: Chekhov himself. He wrote at least 600 stories (a few of them novellas; one or two long enough to be considered as novels) in which he proved himself the mentor of all later writers in the medium. He rarely if ever judged - his plays too bear this out - which makes his stories all the richer, and his life one of the most fascinating of any writer`s life of his era (he died at 44 in 1904) or any other.
I loved this book and can`t wait to read it again, knowing it will take me back to the stories of Anton Chekhov, which are a rich and varied place to find oneself.