Humour Literary Fiction

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

on
20 June 2020
The Master & Margarita Book Cover The Master & Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov
Political fiction
Vintage International
1995
Paperback
367

In an updated version of the Faust story, the devil and his minions pay 1920's Moscow a visit and wreak havoc on the artistic community. Bulgakov's satire was banned in Russia by Stalin, and only published in England 27 years after the author's death.

“The devil went down to Georgia Moscow, he was looking for a soul to steal.”
—Primus

Phew! I needed a margarita after finishing The Master and Margarita! What a magnificent, turbulent read!

This extravagant Russian allegory is an adult Alice in Wonderland, bursting at the seams with mischief, darkness and rambunctiousness. The ghosts of Faust and Dante must have sat on the author’s shoulders as he worked tirelessly on this masterpiece.

In short, this book was made for me! Come down from the heavens, Mikhail Bulgakov, and give me a hug, my brother from another мамочка. I’m so glad we found each other!

The Devil and his motley crew breeze into 1930s Moscow and begin to reap havoc by reading people’s minds, decapitating citizens and throwing an astonishing stage show that scandalises the local glitterati. To give you some inkling of what we’re dealing with here, one of Satan’s sidekicks is a talking cat the size of a pig, who is always in the thick of things (Bulgakov was evidently writing magical realism before Gabriel García Márquez was even born). The humour is riotous and the badinage so hilarious that I was holding my ribs, kicking my legs and Cossack dancing around the room!

In tandem with all of this magic and mayhem (please bear with me, dear reader) is a travel back in time to the trial and eventual crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. These subplot scenes are written in a completely different hist-fic style and are amazingly cinematic. The author’s juxtaposition of the supernatural and the real is a constant stratagem throughout.

It would take me all day to discuss the symbolism that underpins this incredible book, so I won’t bore you with every detail. Suffice to say that Bulgakov sets out to satirise the Stalinist regime he was oppressed by (was Orwell’s Animal Farm inspired by this novel?) and the Devil is on hand to mete out an extreme brand of either punishment or reward to whoever displeases or pleases him (human cowardice is what really gets his goat).

The underlying parable jumps about all over the place – and sometimes out of windows on a broomstick! Heck, there is even a Magritte-style talking suit! I’d be lying if I said I’d grasped the significance of all of the author’s philosophical analogies, but I certainly had a lot of fun trying.

I loved this book; really loved it. And it’s incredible to think that The Master and Margarita was fashioned in the 1920s. It was years ahead of its time and is like no other novel I’ve ever read.

Clearly, this book wouldn’t be for everyone, but if you like your literature dark, magical, intellectual, thought-provoking and absurd, then you should find room for it on your shelves.

This was a buddy read with my wonderful magical realism friend, Kimber Silver.

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Peter Donnelly
Ireland

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley peter@thereadingdesk.com

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