The Milkman in the Night by Andrey Kurkov
|The Milkman in the Night by Andrey Kurkov|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Poor workers weave around corrupt upper classes with strange, nocturnal designs, while a pet becomes a symbol of heroism - it could only be the Ukraine of Kurkov, with never a chicken Kiev in sight.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: August 2012|
If you're going to go sleepwalking, there are better places to do so than in Kiev in the grip of its usual snowy, cold and bleak winter - even if there is a lovely blonde at the end of your journey. Semyon is living this reality, unaware of the strange consequences, just as others around him are unaware of the strange consequences of their actions - such as the airport security men who purloin some impounded drugs and test them on the cat. We also have a young single mother selling herself - just not in that way - commuting into a capital where some are rich enough to try and stave of ageing, and to cheat death in various ways...
Death is here in several guises, flagging this as another of Andrey Kurkov's black comedies. It's not particularly comedic, but really fits into no other category. The best way of defining the style is with a cinematic allusion, for with all the darkness, all the artificial light, all the tentative injections of hope and love, and all the vodka, we are almost witnessing an Aki Kaurismaki film. The Ukrainian will get more of the geographic references, but beyond calling the country's last leader by her diminutive first name these are definitely unknown people - very foreign characters living in their rarefied Eastern European winter.
They are definitely real people, but perhaps I should underplay the successfully-given breadth of their lives, for two reasons. One, while we get to see what they eat, how they get about, what they feel, we hardly know what they look like - relevant when someone is revealed as ugly half-way through. And two, despite all the detail and despite being a chunk of a novel it doesn't read as particularly long. Instead the snappy chapters, generally under five pages each, liven the reading up as never before in my experience of Kurkov. I think they might stagger the timeline a little too much here and there, but they act as teeth on a zipper the author uses to gradually unite the three or four main story strands - and when we feel we are ahead of him in doing so it doesn't matter.
We're not always led to predict where Kurkov is going, though, and not expecting to if we've read him before. In the end this is quite a mellow wallow in his world, full of incidental detail, seemingly incidental characters, lots of open ends ultimately, but a good feeling on conclusion. It's a book that even if written in Russian speaks to the Ukrainian about hope, a new spring and a new dawn, even while there's a lot that has to be undertaken in the blackest night first.
I must thank the kind Vintage people for my review copy.
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