Book Four: Envy

Envy, Yuri Olesha

Oh great. Another book to make me feel stupid. It started off all well and good and the first third of the novel was great--super funny and absurd. Then something happened and I kept thinking, "Okay, any moment now this is going to make perfect sense." And it never did. The back of the book boasts, "It is a contest of wills in which nothing is sure except the incorrigible human heart." Aside from that sounding like the voice over in a trailer for a foreign movie, I honestly have no idea how that relates to this book. Quick plot summary: Babichev (a fat, self-satisfied guy who plans on revolutionizing sausage production with his restaurant the Two Bits) takes in a bitter, angry Kavalerov from the streets who grows to hate and envy his host. Then a bunch of other characters appear--Ivan (Babichev's brother), Valya (Ivan's estranged daughter), Volodya (a soccer-playing second son to Babichev who used to sleep on the couch that Kavalerov sleeps on and who is now, maybe, going to marry Valya), and Ophelia (a machine? a woman? a symbol?)--and things get so confusing and dreamlike that you have no idea what is going on. And honestly, my own little plot synopsis makes 1000% more sense than the book did.

I don't want to have to make excuses for me or the book, but maybe if I was reading this in a Russian literature class and we read one chapter a week slowly and talked and talked and talked about it, it would have made sense. Granted, that sounds like absolute torture, but I maybe would have "understood" the book. But since I didn't and I don't, I'm just going to have to give this book one big, "Meh."


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