The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

I am not /entirely certain/ this counts as Fantasy. I mean, thematically it really really does. But it’s also 1930s Russian literature… which is a whole other thing. Either way, I’ve read it and shall bore you with it for a few minutes.

I’ve actually been reading this quite slowly over a while. Not because I didn’t enjoy it (I really did) but because I’ve been quite busy at the moment (wandering around the country, moving up to uni… bleh) so it kind of fell to the side. Unfortunately, this means my memories of how good it is at the start are a bit disconnected and fuzzy, but I shall persevere because I think it’s worth it.

Vague plot summary (no real spoilers): a mysterious man with mysterious powers wreaks havoc with the intertwined lives of many Muscovites along with his minions. The book follows the happenings of various people, to varying depths of detail, as they interact.

Spoiler that is on the blurb on the back cover: he is the devil.

That’s why I reckon it’s fantasy. That and the giant, talking cat.

Anyway. I quite like Russian literature. This is an important caveat for this book, because I know a lot of people who adamantly /don’t/ and this is very much… well… Russian. But, beyond that, it is an excellent book. Obviously, since it was written in the 1930s, it’s not like fantasy as we consider fantasy. Ugh, I’m not doing this very well. I’ll try again. This is not a fantasy book. It’s some 1930s literature that just happens to thematically fall within the bounds of what I would consider fantasy, so I’m talking about it, whether anyone cares or not. So now I can shut up about what it is and focus on what it’s like.

The answer: excellent. It is mad and rattles around all over the place, in a seemingly unco-ordinated way, but it all pulls together in the end, and turns into an excellent, crafted narrative. The characters are varying shades of likeable, and the villains, such as they are, are really sympathetic. There are people you’re meant to hate, and you do, and ones you’re meant to like, and you mostly do. And some who are clearly meant to be ambiguous, and they are fun. No one is particularly morally complex, except /maybe/ Woland and Margarita. You don’t get enough of an insight into the Master to judge him very well. There is never really any explanation for anything. It’s left as mad as it superficially is, and that’s wonderful. It does feel like a hypnotic blur, just as much of it is described in parts of the book.

Basically, it’s a fun, not very long, mad romp of a book, but you have to be willing and happy to read some 1930s translated Russian to get it, so it depends how you feel about that. I would strongly recommend it, but it really does depend on your tolerances for a dry style and a fairly slow pace. 335 pages is not a massive amount to read, however, so go for it. It definitely has a greater feeling of finishing-satisfaction than most books I’ve read recently.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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