Saturday, May 19, 2007

All the names

I've just finished reading Yuri Buida's weird and wonderful Zero Train, published by the excellent Dedalus Books. It was a typically Russian novel, with larger than life characters whose dialogue alternated between philosophical musings and impassioned outbursts. All very Dostoevsky. The novel was also typically Russian in a way I found less appealing: everyone seemed to have at least three names. This made for a very confusing read at times and although a glossary was helpfully provided, it was less helpfully placed at the end of the book. Reading the list of names, patronyms and nicknames for each character, I realised that I had made two very silly mistakes about who was who which completely altered the novel's meaning. How annoying.

It's for this reason that I haven't read War and Peace. I'm not bothered about the length. I read Les Miserables and really enjoyed it, but if Victor Hugo had been a Russian I'm not sure if I could have contended with the fact that Jean Valjean was also called Jean Pierreovitch or Tinker. When you have an epic novel with nearly 500 characters, the last thing you need is any confusion about who's who. What I need isn't an abridged version of War and Peace, but an amended one in which everyone has one name and sticks to it.

4 comments:

Goncalo Veiga said...

Yeah! Doestoevski books have that small/big detail: at one moment a character is called Vanya, then Anouska and then Nouka! How can a man keep up with it?!

Goncalo Veiga said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bye bye bellulah said...

Very low class of me but I love some Russian authors and to make stories easier to read I give the characters names like Patrick or Thomas. Then I can keep track of them as Pat or Paddy or Patrick etc.

Steerforth said...

I'm glad I'm not alone. I'll try the Patrick-Paddy-Pat method next time I take the plunge.