The Master of Petersburg: A Novel

The Master of Petersburg: A Novel

4.5 2
by J. M. Coetzee
     
 

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In the fall of 1869 Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, lately a resident of Germany, is summoned back to St. Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson, Pavel. Half crazed with grief, stricken by epileptic seizures, and erotically obsessed with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky is nevertheless intent on unraveling the enigma of Pavel's life. Was the boy a suicide or… See more details below

Overview

In the fall of 1869 Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, lately a resident of Germany, is summoned back to St. Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson, Pavel. Half crazed with grief, stricken by epileptic seizures, and erotically obsessed with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky is nevertheless intent on unraveling the enigma of Pavel's life. Was the boy a suicide or a murder victim? Did he love his stepfather or despise him? Was he a disciple of the revolutionary Nechaev, who even now is somewhere in St. Petersburg pursuing a dream of apocalyptic violence? As he follows his stepson's ghost—and becomes enmeshed in the same demonic conspiracies that claimed the boy—Dostoevsky emerges as a figure of unfathomable contradictions: naive and calculating, compassionate and cruel, pious and unspeakably perverse.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A provocative and ironic exploration of the relation of art and life" —Los Angeles Times

"A dark and beautifully imagined novel. Coetzee draws a brilliant portrait of an era of desperation, obsession, and hope." —Elle

"A fascinating study of the dark mysteries of creativity, grief, relationships between fathers and sons, and of the great Russian themes of love and death." —The Wall Street Journal

"South Africa's most brilliant novelist...challenges us to doubt our preconceived notions not only of love but of truth itself." —The Seattle Times

The New York Times
Thanks to Mr. Coetzee's ability to ground his more abstract ideas in palpable details and a solid storyline, Master tends to read more like a thriller than a dry cerebral exercise....Though Mr. Coetzee's manipulation of these facts and fictions is perfectly nimble, it also feels completely arbitrary. For the reader, at least, there seems to be no larger purpose to his clever sleight of hand: he has simply confused the record of Dostoyevsky's life and blurred the outlines of his famous novel without shedding new light on the art of fiction-making or the craft of writing. Indeed, one finishes The Master of Petersburg marveling at the waste of Mr. Coetzee's copious talents on such an odd and unsatisfying enterprise. — Michiku Kakutani
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Writing from inside the head of another writer is always a hazardous undertaking; when the subject is Fyodor Dostoyevski, the audacity is breathtaking. But that is what Coetzee (Waiting for the Barbarians; The Life & Times of Michael K) dares here, succeeding beyond all expectation. His Dostoyevski, after serving his sentence in Siberia, is living in self-imposed exile in Germany when his much-cherished stepson Pavel is found dead on a quay in St. Petersburg. The novelist rushes back there, full of anguish and guilt, and finds himself drawn instantly into an intense, edgy affair with the boy's landlady and into a wary intimacy with her young daughter, who had befriended Pavel. As a former revolutionary, he also becomes the object of police attention, particularly as one of Pavel's close associates was Nechaev, the very model of a ruthless Bolshevik. The epileptic Dostoyevski is in deepest turmoil as he mourns his stepson, tries to learn how he died (Was he killed by the police? Slain by the revolutionaries as a provocation? A suicide?) and alternately yields to and resists his darkest erotic self. The world Coetzee conjures with burning intensity is the one we remember from Karamazov and The Possessed, and there are long, searching conversations, with a police inspector and with the remorseless Nechaev himself, that could have been penned by the Russian master. It's a harrowing, exhilarating performance sure to further lift Coetzee's lofty reputation. (Nov.)
Library Journal
St. Petersburg is poised for revolution as Fyodor Dostoevsky returns from Germany to claim his deceased stepson's papers. Although the police rule Pavel's death a suicide, the famous writer is drawn into a group of shady characters, including the anarchist Nechaev, who is possibly Pavel's killer. Plagued by seizures and tormented by a torrid affair with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky struggles to ascertain once and for all a writer's responsibility to his family and society. The strength of South African writer Coetzee (Age of Iron, LJ 8/90) lies in his ability to draw characters and scenes evoking the dark mood of the master's novels. Unfortunately, this story of action and ideas lapses into monotonous debate in its final chapters, but there is much to enjoy despite the flagging plot. Recommended for literary collections.-Paul E. Hutchison, Bellefonte, Pa.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140238105
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/28/1995
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
883,897
Product dimensions:
5.07(w) x 7.74(h) x 0.57(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A provocative and ironic exploration of the relation of art and life" —Los Angeles Times

"A dark and beautifully imagined novel. Coetzee draws a brilliant portrait of an era of desperation, obsession, and hope." —Elle

"A fascinating study of the dark mysteries of creativity, grief, relationships between fathers and sons, and of the great Russian themes of love and death." —The Wall Street Journal

"South Africa's most brilliant novelist...challenges us to doubt our preconceived notions not only of love but of truth itself." —The Seattle Times

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