Into the Thickening Fogby Andrey Gelasimov, Marian Schwartz Published 01 Jan 2017
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A French theater agrees to stage the latest work by Filippov—the most prestigious and lucrative opportunity of his infamous career—but first he must sever ties with his longtime collaborator and childhood friend. So the internationally acclaimed Russian director makes a reluctant trip back to his hometown to deliver the news. His journey to the Far North, where the temperature remains dangerous all winter, unexpectedly blurs the distinctions between reality and art for this virtuoso, who prides himself on his ability to create shocking scenes and outrageous situations. And after the city’s power grid goes off-line, the brutal cold just might get the better of him.
The colder it gets, the more wickedly funny Filippov’s boozy exploits, which unravel into an unexpected chain of events—including run-ins with old lovers, meeting a woman who might be his daughter, encounters with the devil, and the unlikely affection of a dog that, like Filippov, is in desperate need of warmth.
"Into the Thickening Fog" Reviews
I generally don't look at other people's reviews before I enter mine—I don't want to be unduly influenced by what they might write or think. But when I saw the rather sad average score this book was languishing under, I couldn't resist taking a peek.
And the thing is, all of the people who hated the book are quite right in what they think about it. It is, indeed, confusing, pointless, morbid, pretentious, wicked, shameless, and deeply depressing.
It is also wickedly funny and slyly clever.
At first, I thought it was just yet another Eastern European drinking and whining festival (see under: Orhan Pamuk), one more depressed Russian taking on board more vodka than any human body is designed to hold and as a consequence making extraordinarily bad choices. And it is all of that. But as the book progresses, it becomes clear that the extreme cold (it takes place in Northern Russia, which is to say Siberia), our protagonist's drinking, the pinball machine of events that keep grabbing him and shoving him around willy nilly—all of those are intended to cause us to feel the claustrophobia and uncertainty of our lives, how our claim to certainty and order are chimera that barely cover the chaos at the depths of our being.
Not everyone will find this book amusing. It really is about a man who is drunk most of the time, under-dressed in weather that might just kill him if he's not careful (and he's not a very careful man, even sober). And our Filippov is quite simply not a very nice man. But if you can take all this with a grain of salt and focus on the sheer exuberant messiness of this sprawling, delightful book, it may well reward your efforts.
Hmmm. This is a tough one, because the author clearly has skill: imaginative, pithy, a sharp way with words, and clever, witty observational prose. He set the place exceedingly well -- I've never felt colder while reading a book -- giving us an inside and very tangible experience with the frozen, northern region of Russia; in fact, cold was a character, so present and pervasive. And there were other interesting characters (actual people), lots of edgy, facile dialogue, and somewhere in there was the foundation for a great plot. Therein lay the biggest problem:
Plot. Even by the time I was halfway through the book, whatever plot there was could only be described as “meandering.” I kept waiting; waiting for the story to go somewhere, for the set-up to become a page-turning, leading-us-somewhere, compelling, fascinating narrative, but it did not. There were series of vignettes, one set piece after another, but no plot. Ostensibly one exists; sadly, my interest petered out before one made itself known.
Another issue for me is what I'll call "alcohol redundancy." The author has made his protagonist a prodigious drinker of spirits, and I'd guess he -- the writer -- finds this trait far more fascinating than at least this reader did. Like the cold, alcohol was such an all-encompassing, pervasive element woven into the story that it, too, became its own character.
In fact, it was a never-ending discussion, the matter of drinking and its many ramifications. This included the IDEA of drinking, the mention of drinking, the description of drinking; the detailed, anatomical, visceral, physical state of drinking and inebriation in its every form, depth, flavor, reaction, bodily fluid, impact, assault, whatever. It's covered, over and over, page to page, chapter to chapter, to the point that I wanted to scream: "I GET IT! HE DRINKS!" Perhaps it's a Russian theme that never gets wearying to Russians... not so much anyone else?
I kept with it for as long as I could because the author IS a good "writer" in the sense that he knows how to write prose and conjure up interesting characters. But a successful novel also requires pulling readers in with a compelling plot, piquing their interest with twists and turns, delivering an unfolding storyline that keeps them engaged. THAT was missing. So much so that after many attempts to keep going, stay involved, give the writer the respect of finishing his book, I finally faced the fact that I was simply not enjoying the experience and threw in the towel.
So it’s a mixed bag: Skillful prose, interesting characters, but thematically redundant with a negligible plot.
This is a brand new novel, just translated from the Russian, and it's a corker, a modern-day odyssey across the frozen north where temperatures hover at 50 below zero, and all the heat has temporarily vanished. The protagonist is a famous theater director who has no reason to live, but keeps on going towards various goals, some more real than others. Along the way, he sings Tom Waits songs, references the likes of Agatha Christie, South Parker, and Homer's Odyssey, and drinks ridiculous amounts of vodka. He encounters a collection of complicated characters postponed in relation to his inner self, and generally battles gloom to an occasional draw as he keeps finding something necessary to keep him alive until . . . well, I'm not going to say. But I will say I enjoyed this book quite a bit. Never heard of this author, but he has several other novels translated into English, so I'll keep my eyes open.
Somewhat interesting. The ending was abrupt. Translation was a bit rough at times, but that may have been due to the voice of the narrator. Not a book I'd recommend or ever bother to read again, but it wasn't horrible.
Knew from the opening pages this title was not for me. Abandoned.
Not my cup of tea
I hated this book. Sorry. It took forbid to get into, and even then I only kept reading because I was 60%in and hoped I'd find a plot.
I never did. It's hard to follow and the moment you think you've found a purpose, you find you're completely wrong. The main character is just a self observed dink. I really feel like I wasted time here, this It's the 8th book I've read in 2017 and it took longer to get through than all 7 of the others out together.