Friday, October 1, 2010

There Once Lived A Woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

"There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby" is sure to get you into the Halloween spirit. The title of this book alone says it all. Vanishings and apparitions, nightmares and twists of fate, mysterious ailments and supernatural interventions haunt these stories by Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Although her stories in this book are reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s writing style, Ludmilla’s style is in a class entirely of her own.

According to the English translators of this book Keith Gessen and Anna Summers, Ludmilla’s writing style can best be explained from a subtitle she used in one of her earlier works called “The Possibilities of Menippea”. According to ancient Greek mythology, Menippus visited Hades and since then the satirical genre named after him has often been said to include visits to the literal or social underworld. These visits are called nekyia, a night journey, after Homer’s term in the “Odyssey”. Classic nekyia describe travels to the underworld and dialogues with the dead. In Homer’s Odyssey, for example, Odysseus must first drink human blood before talking with the dead. Modern nekyia include Lewis Caroll's “Alice in Wonderland” and Henry James' “The Turn of the Screw”. Modern nekyia typically involve extraordinary situations involving near death experiences and borderline states where both reality and time are ambiguous.

Ludmilla’s work was heavily scrutinized during the days of Communist Russia. It took the collapse of the Soviet Union before all of her work could be widely circulated.

The following critique of the book sums the book up perfectly.

“Blending the miraculous with the macabre, and leavened by a mischievous gallows humor, these bewitching tales are like nothing being written in Russia-or anywhere else in the world-today.”

1 comment:

  1. Pat, I want to read this! It sounds fascinating. I love to be scared, I love the weird and unusual -- I know you got this from the library, but if you finish it before the due date, PLEASE let me borrow it. You know I am dependable about returning things. Good post. I'm always interested in new authors.