Book Review: Diaboliad and Other Stories, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Publisher:  Alma Classics

Publication date:  This edition – 15th April 2015

Diaboliad My Review

Diaboliad and Other StoriesThis slim volume is bursting with four tall tales that are simply a rhapsody of random.

The characters’ often confusing psychological metamorphosis throughout is either a result of a mind of high intelligence, or someone that’s completely off their trolley. The jury’s still out on that one, I’m afraid!

The absurdities presented by strained Russian political situations in the early 20th century allow the plots to run riot, blitzing bureaucratic streets, oppressive workplaces, and the biting cold of uninviting apartment complexes.

A quick rundown of the stories include: a dismissed office clerk’s sulphur induced hallucinogenic doppelganger effect, the abrupt end to a tough regime that thrives courtesy of an insufferable building supervisor, an immigrant’s unintentional progression within the Russian army, and a surreal dream in which a man cons an entire province out of billions.

I can’t remotely fathom the whys and wherefores of the individual plots, other than Diaboliad and other Stories grips an ‘arrogant’ regime with both hands and attacks it with shrewd rebellion and an undiluted irony.

While Diaboliad (first published in 1924) was by far my favourite story from this odd collection, each tale was colossally chaotic enough to compel me to keep reading. After this taster I’d be intrigued to try this author’s further work, as the flash of ideas that rebound off the page are strangely engaging and utterly unique – ‘quirky’ doesn’t quite do it justice!

Rating:  3.5/5

(I received this copy from Alma Books in a Twitter competition they ran earlier in 2016. Yep, it’s been on the TBR a while!)

Diaboliad Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

In Bulgakov’s ‘Diaboliad’, the modest and unassuming office clerk Korotkov is summarily sacked for a trifling error from his job at the First Central Depot for the Materials for Matches, and tries to seek out his newly assigned superior Kalsoner, responsible for his dismissal. His quest through the labyrinth of Soviet bureaucracy takes on the increasingly surreal dimensions of a nightmare. This early satirical story, reminiscent of Gogol and Dostoevsky, was first published in 1924 and incurred the wrath of pro-Soviet critics. Along with the three other stories in this volume which also feature explorations of the absurd and bizarre, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the artistic development of the author of ‘Master and Margarita’.

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Diaboliad Author Profile

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev in May 1891. He studied and briefly practised medicine and, after indigent wanderings through revolutionary Russia and the Caucasus, he settled in Moscow in 1921. His sympathetic portrayal of White characters in his stories, in the plays The Days of the Turbins (The White Guard), which enjoyed great success at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1926, and Flight (1927), and his satirical treatment of the officials of the New Economic Plan, led to growing criticism, which became violent after the play The Purple Island.

His later works treat the subject of the artist and the tyrant under the guise of historical characters, with plays such as Molière, staged in 1936, Don Quixote, staged in 1940, and Pushkin, staged in 1943. He also wrote a brilliant biography, highly original in form, of his literary hero, Molière, but The Master and Margarita, a fantasy novel about the devil and his henchmen set in modern Moscow, is generally considered his masterpiece. Fame, at home and abroad, was not to come until a quarter of a century after his death at Moscow in 1940.

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Book Review: The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W. E. Bowman

Publisher:  Vintage Classics

Publication date:  1st April 2010

Source:  Paperback [My own purchased copy]

The Ascent of Rum Doodle is a jaunty parody of inept mountaineers, who couldn’t organise a raffle at a village fete let alone master the 40,000 (and a half) ft climb to the peak of ‘Rum Doodle’.

These ‘professionals’ have the most ironic surnames like Burley, who was was anything but as he was out of sorts after failing to acclimatise to any step of their journey, the team’s medical assistance was provided by a Dr Prone who contracted everything from mumps to malaria, while Constant unintentionally offended the local porters at every available opportunity with his professed linguistic skill, and their navigator, Jungle, aptly couldn’t find the wood for the trees.

The ‘Rum Doodle’ campaign reaches farcical proportions as their specially selected liabilities hamper progress at every possible turn. The team leader, Binder (his radio code name), is a naïve shepherd with a flock that regularly outwits him. He is blissfully unaware of the reverse psychology they apply in order to avoid sharing a tent with his inexhaustible counsel.

The greatest threat to their party wasn’t in fact Binder, the altitude, or mutiny every time Constant opened his mouth, but Pong, a cook with the most frightful culinary ability to ‘demoralise’ all grown men. Strategies were developed to minimise exposure of his contribution to their endeavour but his presence was ludicrously unshakeable.

And with the exception of Binder’s incessant obsession for dredging up every team member’s fiancée status (regardless of how curious their replies are) this story is completely dominated by men. I can honestly say I hadn’t noticed the omission of female characters until the end as I was busy being carried away by their absurd behaviour and the futility of meticulous planning!

There were  memorable gems of recklessness and ridicule throughout, but my absolute favourites were when the team had diagnosed the doctor as having hopes of a recovery on the basis that he hadn’t expired yet, and the moment Binder’s tears secured his face to the ice during a momentary lapse of emotional composure. Plus this one, where the leader is once again trying to raise morale …

Poor Prone seemed quite low, and to cheer him up I encouraged him to talk about his home. Had he a fiancée? I asked. He said, no, his wife was the unsympathetic kind and his children considered one mother quite enough.

Binder’s valiant efforts to provide his calamitous conquerors with the necessary encouragement turned into an ascent of endurance rather than an expedition. I mean, exactly how many people can you lose in a crevasse before something twigs?! Loved it! 😀

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

An outrageously funny spoof about the ascent of a 40,000-and-a-half-foot peak, The Ascent of Rum Doodle has been a cult favourite since its publication in 1956. Led by the reliably under-insightful Binder, a team of seven British men including Dr Prone (constantly ill); Jungle the route finder (constantly lost), Constant the diplomat (constantly arguing) and 3,000 Yogistani porters, set out to conquer the highest peak in the Himalayas.

http://www.rumdoodle.org.uk/

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

W. E. Bowman (1912-1985) was a civil engineer who spent his free time hill-walking, painting and writing (unpublished) books on the Theory of Relativity. He was married with two children.

RUM DOODLE WEBSITE

Book Review: Necropolis, by Guy Portman

Publication date:   24th April 2014

Necropolis Kindle CoverThe satirical Necropolis introduces us Dyson Devereux. Dyson works for the Department of Cremations and Burials where his promotion permits him to oversee a wide variety of grisly ‘tools of the trade’ and participate in work related situations that would see most people running for the hills. He also has an unusual coping mechanism of dealing with life’s irritating people – while they are completely oblivious of his loathing toward them, he fantasises about their timely demise (especially the serial-complaining ‘pigeon lady’).

So, we find this highly manipulative and strangely charming creature is fuelled by a general loathing of the human race. He’s a multi-lingual literary genius, who is immune to his colleague’s inane chatter and, let’s face it, their existence. Dyson showers them with appropriately staged compliments whenever it’s socially demanded and endeavours to keep his sardonic comments to a minimum. Yet on occasion his practised mask slips and the odd slur manages to crawl from between his lips while he casually passes the custard creams round.

With a passion for documentaries, particularly historically grim ones, Dyson believes that one of the war criminals featured in a recent TV programme is currently working for his ground maintenance team. This vague suspicion is the only motivation he needs to see justice served, not to mention the healthy reward on offer.

Embarking on a meticulously planned covert operation, while working to solve a curious problem between a drug dealing low-life and his addict neighbour (and casual girlfriend, Eva), plus keeping up appearances of actually giving a damn, all places added pressure on Dyson under which he appears to actively thrive. Oh, and there’s also a particularly graphic threesome, disdainful conversations over cadavers in the funeral parlour, and the inappropriate use of chemicals secreted from the store cupboard in the morgue.

I remain slightly troubled as to why I found myself applauding a sociopath for being so thoroughly entertaining. What conclusions you care to jump to following that particular admission I would ask you to kindly keep to yourselves!

All that is required to appreciate Necropolis is a moderately disturbed sense of humour, as its unflinching wry criticisms of human nature and near-the-knuckle undertone may not be suitable for the very easily offended. (Personally, I loved it!)

Rating: 4/5

(Source: Own copy, courtesy of a free download for this book from Amazon UK following a  generous ‘promotion’ by the author via Twitter.)

Necropolis Book Summary 1

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

A black comedy of true distinction.

Dyson Devereux works in the Burials and Cemeteries department in his local council. Dyson is intelligent, incisive and informed. He is also a sociopath. Dyson’s contempt for the bureaucracy and banality of his workplace provides ample refuge for his mordant wit. But the prevalence of Essex Cherubs adorning the headstones of Newton New Cemetery is starting to get on his nerves.

When an opportunity presents itself will Dyson seize his chance and find freedom, or is his destiny to be a life of toil in Burials and Cemeteries?

Brutal, bleak and darkly comical, Necropolis is a savage indictment of the politically correct, health and safety-obsessed world in which we live.

‘Not only a funny, twisted, erudite satire on the psychopath genre, this novel also boasts a compelling plot and finely sculpted characters’

‘I was at once fascinated and disturbed by the devious Dyson Devereux with his malicious pedantry, wicked schemes and grotesque good taste. A barbed joy’

Crime Fiction Lover – ‘The book is full of razor-sharp satire. No politically correct madness escapes unscathed, and no sacred cow remains un-butchered and served up in freezer packs.’

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Necropolis Author Profile 1

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

As far back as anyone can remember Guy has been an introverted creature, with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, and a sardonic sense of humour.

Throughout a childhood in London spent watching cold war propaganda gems such as He Man, an adolescence confined in various institutions, and a career that has encompassed stints in academic research and the sports industry, Guy has been a keen if somewhat cynical social observer.

Humour of the sardonic variety is a reoccurring theme in much of Guy’s writing. His first novel, Charles Middleworth, is an insightful tale of the unexpected. The protagonist in his second novel, the satirical black comedy Necropolis, is, like the author, a darkly humorous individual – though, unlike the author, he is a psychopath.

His third novel, Symbiosis, is a psychological thriller about twins girls called Talulah and Taliah.

Guy has an informative and amusing blog – http://www.guyportman.com

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