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Customer Review

on 20 February 2010
For sheer energetic exuberance, vivid and colourful language not to mention satire with more than a hint of madness there is no one quite like Nikolai Gogol. This collection translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and published by Granta includes thirteen of his tales. The first part of the book deals with those that are set in the Ukraine and have strong elements of folk tales as well as the supernatural but written in Gogols unmistakable style. The best Ukrainian tales are those where the supernatural element is minimal or absent, in particular the beautiful "Old World Landowners" and "The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich".

In the second section the tales are situated in St Petersburg. With the exception of the rather whimsical and slightly flat "The Diary of a Madman" the quality of those stories are fantastic. My particular favourite is "The Nose" in which the unfortunate collegiate assessor Kovalev wakes up one morning absent his nose, which is apparently on the loose in St Petersburg in the guise of a Privy Councilor. Sounds ridiculous, but part of the fun in Gogol is in the matter of fact way the narrative runs. On the surface he takes these surreal facts at face value while having tremendous fun with the twists and turns in the telling. It has me chuckling away to myself at any rate. There are darker more uncomfortable stories in particular "The Portrait" which is a singular and sinister story of the artist squandering his talents for worldly fame. "The Overcoat" falls in part between the two, being dark as well as amusing.

Gogol is always a joy to read, and this is as comprehensive collection of his shorter works as I've seen. If you've got thus far without reading him then perhaps the Dover Classics edition of The Overcoat (it includes "The Nose") is the best place to start.
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