Top positive review
16 people found this helpful
A total masterpiece
on 29 August 2007
Self Help is a complex and engrossing novel.
A returned Soviet émigré, Maria Glover, is found dead in her St Petersburg flat by her son. He has flown out at short notice to answer her intriguing call of distress.
In the aftermath of Maria's passing, the Glover family secrets and stories start to come to light. The tentacles of these stories stretch from St Petersburg to London, Paris and New York as Maria's family have flown the nest and made, generally, unsuccessful and unfulfilling lives for themselves.
What makes Self Help is the level of intrigue in the stories - especially as Arkady, aided by English heroin addict Henry, tries to make contact with Maria's family. The novel is narrated from various perspectives, allowing characters to be the villain of the piece in one chapter and the focus of attention and sympathy in the next. The level of detail, too, is astounding. This creates a very real sense of place which, in four different cities, is no mean feat. By way of example, the detail we see of Gabriel's life - he is Maria's son - as he edits the Self-Help! magazine goes way beyond what is needed to carry the story along. Each of Gabe's staff gets a mention, along with their various issues and problems that make them totally unsuited to their work. And Arkady and Henry's dealings with the criminal underworld in St Petersburg ring very true indeed. The arch-baddie Leary is a comic creation of genius - his understanding of the psyche of the junkie is so true.
As the novel meanders its slow but shimmering path to conclusion, the various strands get brought together in various unpredictable ways. There is the obligatory jaw dropping moment of shock - and it really is jaw-dropping, but without being clichéd.
A couple of anachronisms apart, this is a total masterpiece. The language glows on the page, briefly, before the urge to turn the page kicks in. Top class.