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on 5 March 2007
"Slow down, write less, and concentrate on literary quality" is the advice a contemporary critic gave to Chekhov after the publication of one of his first short stories. He had certainly heeded this advice by the last years of his life, when the stories in this collection were written. These are compact, meditative stories in which mood, tone and emotion are highlighted, rather than traditional event-driven plots.

I bought the book because I liked the cover - an impressionist painting with a hint of expressionism. A very good choice which sums up the mood of the short tales in this volume. Most of them have no plot, beyond the trivial, normal concerns of the lives of ordinary people (falling in love, marriage, adultery, work, ambition etc) - Chekhov prefers to distort the significance of the external world and focus on the emotions of the characters involved: normally to the point of futility at the failure of life, the world, to conform to the perspective of the main character or narrator, or indeed any of the characters.

More often than not this conflict is worked out through the clash of Russian provincial life with the personal ambitions, the deepest wants of a particular character - e.g. to be a great actor or musician, to be free of petty corruption, to love freely. None of the dilemmas are resolved, although Chekhov hints at partial solutions, but always with the suggestion that these will simply lead to more problems. This is presumably why so many of the stories involve adultery (as a possibility or in fact) - unhappy people seeking answers in more meaningful relationships create more problems for themselves (psychological, emotional, imaginary, real) which in turn cast doubt on the meaning of the relationship.

Another area Chekhov likes to use is work and the Russian class system - petty bureaucrats, landowners, writers and artists, engineers, transport workers and peasants make numerous appearances. Chekhov exploits their way of life, values, concerns, habits and hypocrisies to examine, suggest, blur and tamper with the realist vision. Unlike Tolstoy, for instance, there is little Romantic depiction of the peasantry: stories like Peasants and My Life portray them as brutal, drunken, rapacious and stupid. However, Chekhov is much more critical of the petty mores, corruption, snobbery and empty-headed romanticism of the middle classes.

Chekhov's prose is cool, controlled and gentle - a superb stylist who paints bright and colourful pictures which both bring alive 19th century Russian life and provide a rich array of types and images for his allusive technique. There is none of the rambling bombast that can be characteristic of late 19th century writing. The stories are generally slow-paced and (purposely) repetitious - as befits a writer concerned to unpick the innermost thoughts and reflections of his characters, their struggle to come to terms with the personal significance of events and facts about the world, their frustrations as they fight to resolve the clashes between their own vision and the life of the village, town, nation or world in which they live.

A very enjoyable and enriching book - certainly an author/playwright I shall return to.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 April 2011
Chekhov's two hundred or more short stories can now be downloaded free of charge, so this selection of thirteen of them needs some rationale for the choices made. Although the notes at the end are interesting, say as regards the extent to which Chekhov's writing was constrained by the censors who cut out large tracts, I would have liked more background explanation of how the details of his life and his personality affected his writing.

Assisted by Ronald Wilks' excellent translations, the stories flow along and are very easy to read. I was struck by Chekhov's evident love for the countryside, his frequent flashes of humour, his rich cast of characters including many vivid little pen portraits, and his complex attitudes towards the peasants: he is repelled by their ignorance and boorishness, but realises that some of this is the fault of the wealthy people, like himself, who have deprived them of opportunities. A recurrent theme is for people to be dissatisfied with their lot, stultified by the boredom of provincial life and very indecisive about making changes, in particular embarking on a long-term relationship. I wanted to know to what extent these attitudes were Chekhov's own.

The rambling structure of many of these stories surprised me, together with their length, and inclusion of chapters! I can see why "The Lady with the Little Dog" is so famous since it analyses the narrator Gurov's inner thoughts so well. "And only now, when his hair had turned grey, had he genuinely, truly fallen in love - for the first time in his life."

My favourite story was "My Life", almost a novella at ninety pages, which seems to me to encapsulate everything to be found in all the other stories as regards human relationships and the flaws in Russian society. In what is subtitled "A Provincial's Story", the narrator actually makes some decisions - to give up his middle class heritage, and work with his hands, and to marry the young woman to whom he feels attracted. Inevitably, his actions bring some sorrow, and the story ends on a philosophical rather than positive, and poignant note.

I like the farcical wit of "Man in a Case" - the "solitary hermit crabs or snails....always seeking safety in their shells... because the real world irritated and frightened him and kept him in a constant state of nerves." At times, as in "Peasants", Chekhov's sense of the ludicrous seems to go overboard. Other stories like "In the Ravine" seemed to me to be too "baggy" and lacking focus, in need of a good edit.

Perhaps I can only take these stories in small doses, but I am pleased to have discovered Chekhov as a short story writer and will definitely seek out more on the net from time to time.
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on 28 December 2012
I've always loved Chekov's dramas. The short stories were only partly known by me, as they randomly got included in anthologies, but this collection gives us the finest short stories all together, and they do not disappoint. To read this cover to cover might be inadvisable; the range is large, the emotions intense. But taken singly these stories are utterly enjoyable.
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on 31 March 2013
Chekhov deserves better than this Kindle version. Penguin needs to work harder at the navigational elements of these eBook versions of their modern classics series. The work is not well-served by the publisher's lack of appreciation of the digital tools that might be used here. Pity.
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on 30 November 2012
This is a fabulous collection of short stories. It's not 'highbrow' literature, just nice easy reading, snapshots of life in Russia in times gone by.
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on 2 April 2014
Having never read Chekhov before I am now a devotee and will be looking to KIndle him in the future.
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on 23 June 2016
Very good condition for a used edition. Very pleased.
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on 28 August 2014
Bought as a present for my mother and she loved it.
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on 9 November 2015
Bought this for my wife. She reallyenjoyed it.
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on 12 September 2014
Fantastic writer, do please read!
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