...the mildness to which men ... had yielded was only half of the intoxication of beauty, while the other half ... was of such surpassing and terrible cruelty—the most cruel of men delights himself with a flower—that beauty ... failed quickly of its effect...
Jeremy Davies is made of ink, but don’t dip a feather in him. It tickles. He once painted a fingernail black and no one really noticed. He was disappointed. He’s also an editor, a religious atheist, a liker of strong coffees, a Shakespeare-lover, a political anarchist and someone who rarely has a pen when he needs one. He has been a PhD candidate, a personal trainer, a life model, a bouncer, an infantry soldier and someone who rarely had a pen when he needed one. He has had words published in a variety of places, in a variety of publications, in a variety of forms, in a variety of moments: Canada, Wet Ink, SMS and twelve minutes past three in the afternoon being some of these. His first novel, 'Missing Presumed Undead', will be re-published by Satalyte Publishing in February 2014. A second is on its way.
'I’m to follow him there?’ the master asked anxiously, holding the bridle.
‘No,’ replied Woland, ‘why run after what is already finished.’
Such a fascinating clash of narration and character, story and story-telling, a kind of collapse of The Devils and Alice in Wonderland. I enjoyed its playfulness and its banal viciousness, in tandem, from the characters and from Bulgakov himself, but also the knife-like and capricious tenderness that emerges like a nervous blackguard hiding his ill-gotten gains so that he can return them with interest.
Interestingly, the namesake characters of the novel were the ones that least interested me. They sometimes come across as a little trite and archetypical, which I realize is part of their purpose for being there… Of the central characters, they are perhaps most emblemic of the author’s social/political Stalinist parody, of which must has been written elsewhere, so I will interest myself more with the story itself, of which there is still much of interest.
Well, but with sorcery, as everyone knows, once it starts, there’s no stopping it.
And this book is heavy on sorcery: both overtly in the narrative of the ‘unclean powers’, and also the sorcery of story-telling, whereby such things can be so effortlessly achieved. When Margarita doubts this to Woland how shows her that whatever’s written on paper and accepted as truth can hold fools firm.
And there is a story within the story, the story of Pilate, the great doubter and condemner of Christ, the man who questioned Truth. Reconciling these two characters, representing Truth and truth, and lie and Lie, becomes one of the chief themic charms about the story as a whole.
…here this philosopher, who had thought up such an incredibly absurd thing as that all men are good, was walking beside him, therefore he was alive. And, of course, it would be terrible even to think that one could execute such a man.
But also how heavenly and hellish interact. When both powers actually come face to face for only a brief time, where Woland (Satan) speaks to the messenger, Matthew Levi, regarding the fate of the master, Woland questions Matthew:
‘But why don’t you take him with you into the light?’
This would be presumed as his reward, to ascend to heaven and be at one with the Creator etc etc. But Matthew, on behalf of Him, responds:
‘He does not deserve the light, he deserves peace,’ Levi said in a sorrowful voice.
So there is war in ‘the light’, there is competing ideas, there is multiplicity, there is a kind of chaos that the master (the great literary artist) is tired of, and that has been recognized in the construction of his reward.
And, of course, we have the infernal crew themselves, who simply bounce off the page and into your room, and upset the furniture, break things, spout attitude, change sentiment on a whim and commit murder with no apparent pattern to their art. Oh, Behemoth:
The cat then stirred, jumped off the chair, stood on his hind legs, front legs akimbo, opened his maw and said:
‘Well, so I sent the telegram. What of it?’
‘...and, for all I know, Aristotle himself.’
‘Your king is in check,’ said Woland.
‘Very well, very well,’ responded the cat, and he began studying the chessboard through his opera glasses.
This book is worth anyone’s time to read for Behemoth alone. The energy when these guys occupy the stage is so great that they outshine the rest of the narrative to the point of aesthetic distraction. You begin to get greedy for their time. For then there’s Koroviev:
‘You’re writers?’ the citizeness asked in her turn.
‘Unquestionable,’ Koroviev answered with dignity.
‘Your identification cards?’ the citizeness repeated.
‘My sweetie…’ Koroviev began tenderly.
‘I’m no sweetie,’ interrupted the citizeness.
‘More’s the pity…'
Then the red-haired bandit grabbed the chicken by the leg, and with this whole chicken hit Poplavsky on the neck, flat, hard and so terribly that the body of the chicken tore off and the leg remained in Azezello’s hand. ‘Everything was confusion in the Oblonskys’ home,’ as the famous writer Leo Tolstoy correctly put it. Precisely so he might have said on this occasion.
And, I must admit I really had to resist plowing through the master and Margarita, or the surprised Soviet officials trying-to-deal-with-what’s-happened bits, to get to more of them. Also, structurally, the book as a whole is a little haphazard, which is explained by its mode of creation, but still, you have to respond to what’s on the page in front of you, in the end.
These things aside, it was a wild ride, like being naked on the back of a flying pig, and where it lacked it made up for in sheer charm.
‘Imagine, Messire!’ Behemoth cried excitedly and joyfully, ‘I was taken for a looter!’
And that cat, devil take him, stole my heart…