This slim yet generous volume of short stories by the writer many, myself included, consider the finest of them all, represents the closest I`ve found to an ideal `best of` Chekhov.
Rosamund Bartlett has translated, with tact and taste, 17 stories, spanning the years 1885-1902, when Chekhov was at his peak as a short story writer. Many of his most perfectly realised tales are here, from the harshly touching The Huntsman to the macabre Gusev; from the marvellous trio of linked tales The Man in a Case, Gooseberries and About Love (which gives the book its title) to the famous Lady With the Little Dog and intensely moving The Bishop. There is also the ghostly The Black Monk and Chekhov`s own favourite, the brief but beautiful The Student.
I am always surprised there has never been, at least to my knowledge, a truly comprehensive anthology of, say, a hundred of his best stories - he wrote at least 600 after all - which would show more fully Chekhov`s sheer versatilty, his humanity, and his greatness as a prose writer of subtle brilliance. He was not a grandly tempestuous Tolstoy, or a tortured Dostoevsky; his genius was quieter, closer to the deft shadings of Maupassant, or his friend Ivan Bunin - another superb master of the short story, and the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
This is a wonderful selection which should lead the reader on to explore the many other collections available, among which I would highly recommend the ongoing Penguin Classics series of translations by Ronald Wilks, and an irresistible, perfectly translated volume from Oxford Classics called Early Stories. You might then wish to read a biography of this most lovable of men. But here is as good a place to start as any.
The apt painting by Chekhov`s friend Levitan on the cover does no harm either.
on 3 May 2011
Just bought this as I felt like something different. I can not say how much I loved everyone of the short stories. When I finished each one I was truely moved. What a great writer,so beautiful. I am left thinking of the characters long after I had finished the book. Will read and reread again and again.
on 24 February 2012
I feel I must say at the start : DON'T BE SCARED OF CHEKHOV. I say that because I think that a lot of people view the great Russian writers as hard-going, long and inaccessible. Chekhov is none of these things, and the translation by Rosamund Bartlett makes it an easy read.
Chekhov is renowned in the business as 'the greatest short story writer who has ever lived'. I had already read one of his other short stories 'The Bet' some time ago, which isn't in this collection but is brilliant, do seek it out.
I think that because the collection is called 'About Love' I expected the stories to all be about love, and though a lot of them actually are, I think it's just called that because it's the title of one story.
There are 17 stories total in this collection and as with anything that has a variety I liked some more than others. The first three stories are in fact about love, one about a chance romantic encounter on a journey, another about a father's concern over an errant son, and the first 'The Huntsman', a character who as far as I'm concerned deserves a punch in the face.
'Gusev' a story of two ill men on a boat journey home and 'Fortune', about two shepherds discussing hidden treasure seem to break the pattern, but could both be seen as being about aspects of love in a certain light, the love of adventure and nostalgic love.
After Gusev comes my two favourite stories 'Fish Love' written in 1892 and 'The Black Monk' from 1894. Fish Love because it is so bizarre as to make it unique and The Black Monk because I think it must be a very early example of a character with either bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and as such interested me. I also really enjoyed The Student' a really short one in which a student has a sudden revelation, a type of which I identified with.
Some of the stories I confess got on my nerves, I didn't particularly like The House With The Mezzanine or The Lady With The Little Dog but I think that's just a question of personal taste.
Also in the collection are a trio of stories from three men on a hunting trip which are slightly connected by their storytellers but not interwoven, which is fun
Despite it taking me longer to read than I expected it would, largely due to a bout of food poisoning I enjoyed this collection and would seek out other collections 7/10