Head Rolling in Moscow

Patriarch’s Ponds, Moscow

It’s my third attempt to read The Master and Margarita. The first sentence: ‘At the hour of the hot spring sunset two citizens appeared at the Patriarch’s Ponds’ gives me the feeling of déjà vu all over again. Coincidentally, UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, has recently had her own succession of Groundhog Days, never more so than when she approached the despatch box this week to sell Parliament her version of Brexit for third time*.

The PM addressed the house on Tuesday*. Without any show of shame or remorse, she urged the House to vote for an amendment that junked the deal that she herself negotiated. It was carried and now she goes back to Brussels to plead to re-open a contract that she had agreed was non-negotiable.

As I understand it The Master and Margarita was banned in the USSR because it parodied a country in which the government held The Party’s interest above those of the country’s citizens. The situation in the UK where the Tory government has been blatantly acting solely in the interests of the Tory Party is beyond parody.

The ‘foreigner’ arrives

Back in Mikhail Bulgakov’s world, this time I reached the contractual page 53 without too much strain. In the first chapter, two Muscovites sitting on a park bench are visited, in turn, by a wreathly ghost and then a ‘foreigner’ wearing a jockey’s cap who, it seems, foretells the future. They discuss God. The second chapter is a retelling of the Pontius Pilate Bible story. Does this grab you? No, me neither. 

I understand that, later, there will be cat. This, unlike the death of one of the Muscovites, is not foretold by the foreigner. This prefiguring of Berlioz’s death is deftly done: ‘… the glass dazzlingly reflected the broken-up sun which was forever departing from Mikhail Alexandrovich …’ but you have to know that he is going to die for it not to slip by unremarked.

Has what I have read so far persuaded me to carry on? I consider the other projects competing for my attention*. No, not enough has happened. As a reader I crave action. The opening chapter establishes atmosphere which you can get away with if the next one starts with a bang*. 

Had Bulgakov skipped the Pilate story (which added nothing at this early stage in the novel other than to highlight that the novel is unconventional) and led straight into chapter three where (thanks to Andy Miller) I know that a Berlioz’s head does literally roll perhaps this would have persuaded me. But the intrusion of the Bible story – what was that about? No, sorry, life’s too short.

Moby Dick next.

  • Now dubbed ‘Brexshit’ in this house.
  • The previous Monday, THA and I had joined a mass-leafleting of a nearby estate on behalf of the People’s Vote campaign. It’s too little, too late.
  • Writing my WIP, codename Lydia; reading the final draft of my next novel Chinatown; reading a friend’s WIP final draft; and reading Ian McEwan’s The Children Act for our community cinema’s Film of the Book Night. Not to mention time ‘wasted’ on Facebook and Twitter.
  • A head rolling for instance.

About The Author

Robert Ronsson

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02 2019

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