July 16, 2009

Book Review Clearinghouse: The Master and Margarita

I was very excited to read this book, due to references to it in Everyone Drunk But Me, not to mention that Keith Law put it as #1 in the Klaw 100. I came away disappointed though, finding the main characters unlikeable and the plot too scattershot to keep me very interested.

One of the main things that bothered me about the book is that you don't really meet the title characters until halfway through. The Master is a tortured writer, shattered by the fact that his bizarre (and interesting, from what we see of it) history of the death of Christ from Pontius Pilate's point of view has been rejected by publishers, and mopes around an insane asylum. Margarita, his lover, makes a deal with the Devil (who has shown up with a cast of amusing cohorts to make mock of Soviet society) to bring him back to her so they can live together. Shenanigans ensue and she gets some measure of revenge, and the quasi-religious stuff from the Master's book is folded into it as well. I didn't really get either of them I guess. - I thought the Master was a jerk and can't really understand why Margarita would be in love with him.

As for the other (human) characters, I found them pretty unlikeable/uninteresting as well. The first half of the book was pretty much the devil and co wreaking havoc on all the social climbers etc within the communist society. I guess this was supposed to be a scathing indicment of the communists, but it all seemed pretty tame to me. Maybe I would have liked it if I was reading this from the perspective of someone who thought atheism was inconceivable or that soviet society itself is amusing in and of itself. Social climbers tend to be idiots, no matter what form of government you're operating under.

What I did like about the book was the excerpts/history from the Master's book about Pilate. I'm really just a sucker for biblical history (true or not), so I thought all of that was pretty cool. You do end up feeling sorry for Pilate in this account, but he's a pretty pathetic guy. The Devil's retinue were fairly amusing, especially Behemoth, the flippant giant cat who had "an affection for chess and vodka".

Maybe I'm just a Philistine, I don't know. But this book was not very enjoyable.