intraspace: the review lounge

Thursday, August 30, 2007

the crime of olga arbyelina

the crime of olga arbyelina, by andrei makine

the local library has a few andrei makine books. it was 'the earth and sky of jacques dorme' that first introduced me to makine and i fell in love with his writing style. 'the crime of olga arbyelina' was my second outing with his work.

it all starts off with a fascinating scene that unfolds in a russian cemetery in paris. an old man tends the graves and tells stories of the people who inhabit them. visitors come to the cemetery to hear these stories, furtively listening to the old man's words and fleeing when he notices them listening. and so, he tells the story of olga arbyelina.

the first scene is of olga sitting on a riverbank in a small town near paris next to the corpse of a middle-aged man. the suspicion of course falls on olga as the murderer - evidently this is the 'crime' that the title talks about. however, the narrative then flicks back about two years, and through suggestions and finally out and out revelation, we find out what olga's hidden crime really is. incest. (yikes!) sorry if i've ruined the story for you, but that all but ruined the story for me.

makine once again shows his genius for poetic writing, but at the point of the revelation, the story becomes a dark irredeemable tragedy that ends in olga's madness and leaves the reader feeling somehow sullied by the reading experience. olga's haemophiliac adolescent son (the other party in the said 'crime') is an unlikeable ghost-like figure who drugs his mother. so it becomes pretty hard going, although makine never writes about his subject in stark and brutal terms, no matter what his characters' crimes may be. perhaps this makes it more disturbing in a way. by being captured by his gentle poetry you feel somehow implicated in the story. you keep reading, hoping for that chink of light that might reveal some hope. none comes.

even though i love makine's poetic language, in this book it sometimes feels like this language is just filling space. a couple of times, i found myself thinking that the whole novel could have been quite an effective short story.

all up, do i regret reading this book? probably. 'the earth and sky' was so much more skillfully done in terms of narrative, structure and language. and because of that i haven't given up on makine.

warandpeace-o-meter: 876/981 (volIII, bookXV, chapVII)

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