Context: We had a freak weekend of snow in early April while I was reading this.
Very quick read this one and it’s been a while since I dipped my feet in Russian lit. This novel brought it all back to me and would be a great intro to anyone wanting to find out what this genre’s all about.
The novel is written under a pseudonym. There are still debates about who actually wrote it. But it contains all you want in a Russian novel: brooding self-absorption, moral decay, the hated or absent conscience of the individual, and the gradual plunge into doom and despair. Lovely!
The eponymous cocaine appeared much later than I thought in this brief book. But early on you get the feeling that the protagonist is heading for disaster. From almost the very first page, he treats his mother abominably. And his pursuit of pleasure is what leads, eventually, to his undoing in an orgy of snorting.
But while he descends into the dreamlike world of addiction, the writing seems to maintain its clarity. This I thought a weakness of the novel. Surely, if someone is writing their own account of drug abuse, you’d expect something a little less lucid, something more like this, in fact.
And it’s a very modernist novel in that there’s no real comment on drug abuse and its effect on society. You are left to assume that from the prose and come to your own conclusions for the most part, although here and there, Ageyev gives hints such as
The neophyte does indeed believe that the main property of cocaine is its ability to make him feel happy, much as the mouse, before it is caught, believes that the main property of mousetraps is to provide him with lard.
Subtle and deadly. Very good book. Deserves second reading.
Early one morning I, Vadim Maslennikov, set off for school (I was going on seventeen at the time) having forgotten the envelope with the first semester fees Mother had left for me in the dining room the day before.
99TH PAGE QUOTE
This far into the book, some of the plot might be revealed. If you want to see the quote, click show
Next morning, on my way to have a wash, I ran into Mother in the hall. Feeling pity for her, yet uncertain of what to say about what had happened, I stopped and ran my hand over her flaccid cheek. To my surprise she neither smiled nor showed any sign of joy; instead, her face turned into a pitiful mass of wrinkles, and tears, boiling hot (or so it seemed to me at the time), began flowing down her cheeks. She seemed to be trying to say something and might very well have succeeded had I not decided that everything had now been smoothed over and, not wishing to be late, quickly moved on.
…true Christians… men who deliberately sacrifice the comforts in their lives so as to better the lives of others, and who derive pleasure and joy from doing so.
The Spaniard always sings about tormented passion, the Russian about passionate torment.
My experience in matters of love seemed to have convinced me that no one could talk eloquently of love unless his love was only a memory, that no one could talk persuasively of love unless his sensuality was aroused, and no one whose heart was actually in the throes of love could say a word.
…female charms, the kind that inflame the senses, are no more than kitchen smells: they tease you when you’re hungry and disgust you when you’ve had your fill.
Suddenly I saw how strange it all was: I saw that if a man does what he does he is a man, and if a woman does what he does she is a harlot. In other words, I saw that the split between spirituality and sensuality in the male is a sign of virility while the same split in the female is a sign of harlotry.
I was terrified as only grown men and women can be when they wake in the middle of the night and begin to realize, in the absolute silence and solitude all around them, that it is not their dream that has woken them, that is is their whole way of life.
This might give the game away. If you want to see the last line, click show
The following were found in the inner breast pocket of his jacket: 1) a small calico pouch with ten silver five-kopeck pieces sewn into it, and 2) a manuscript with two words scribbled in large, jittery letters on the front page: Burkewitz refuses.