Two Short Books, Two Short Reviews

“Something Special” by Iris Murdoch
“Lady Macbeth of Mtensk” by Nikolai Leskov

“Something Special” is a short story by Iris Murdoch which was published in book form in 2000 as a tribute to her the year after she died. She actually wrote the story in 1957. It is very short, 51 pages, with a lot of very good wood carving illustrations by Michael McCurdy. It is about a young man and woman walking the streets of Dublin on a cool summer evening. First they walk by the seaside, then over to the Liffey, and then stop at a couple bars. But the real story is how the interaction between two people can be mysterious and unexplainable. This story was written when Iris Murdoch was still a young writer. It is simple and direct; it is indeed something special.

“Lady Macbeth of Mtensk” was written by Nikolai Leskov in 1865.
This story is about a spirited young woman born in poor circumstances forced into a marriage of convenience with a dull rich middle-aged man. The young woman pines away until she meets a playful young man. By the story’s end, the young woman Katerina Livovna Izmailovna makes Lady Macbeth seem like Mother Theresa in comparison. The title of this novel is indicative of the importance of Shakespeare to Russian literature. The works of Shakespeare were translated into Russian early in the nineteenth century, and it is not just a coincidence that the great flowering of Russian literature occurred soon after and lasted for about eighty years. This short novel is a good read. It made me nostalgic for all of the Russian writers of this era from Pushkin to Gogol to Turgenev to Dostoevsky to Chekhov to Tolstoy to Bely.

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