Thursday, November 18, 2010

REVIEW: There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya. Published 2009 by Penguin.

Nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award last year and written by one of the most important living Russian writers, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, should be required reading for anyone with an interest in either Russian literature or modern fairy tales.

These fairy tales combine a modern-day setting in a Russia defined by social and economic chaos, fractured families, poverty and disappointment, and traditional fairy tale elements- magic, mysterious visitors and the thin line between the land of the living and that of the dead. Petrushevskaya talks about universal fears- dying, losing life, life, home and family, going to war, disease- through the lens of the supernatural. The stories themselves are short and weird rather than scary; her deadpan style and matter-of-fact tone resist put-on atmospherics. Sometimes what she recounts seems almost banal, until the reader remembers what it is she's recounting.

People come back from the dead, often in dreams, to guide left-behind loved ones; spells are cast; lovers are disappointed or defeated. The title story is truly bizarre and frightening and there are lots of scares, twists and chills to be had. But sometimes the stories are happy, in their way. In "The Cabbage Patch Mother", a lonely woman whose child has died finds someone to love in a mysterious little girl she names Droplet. In "Marilena's Secret", my favorite story, an obese circus performer who's been cursed by a disappointed beau finally finds redemption. And "My Love" is a complex, subtle and sad tale of adulteries layered on adulteries.

Part of Russo-Biblio-Extravaganza
Politics are largely absent from Petrushevskaya's stories, at least on the superficial level; they could be taking place in any time or place, and seem to take place on the margins of history, in ordinary life. Fans of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, the fiction Kelly Link or Neil Gaiman, and fantasy and modern fairy tales are the obvious audience for There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby but I think readers of literary fiction and some YA readers would enjoy this collection, too. Petrushevskaya is a really wonderful writer who I wish I knew better and who I wish was better known generally. It's a really neat and a really unusual book,  and really rewarding, too.

Rating: BUY


FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

18 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

The title alone reminds of a book I read long time ago 'The lady in the car with glasses and a gun'.

I wonder why people still write about a Russia that is so poor economically. Almost every popular Russian novel has political and economic tones that is harsh and negative. I wonder!

I know this would be on my look-out-for list.

Marie said...

Nana, I think they write about it because that's reality for a lot of people.

Mystica said...

The title alone was scary enough for me!

Eva said...

You know, I checked this out from the library and abandoned it after about 60 pages. But you're making me want to give it another go! Maybe I just wasn't in the right frame of mind. :)

bermudaonion said...

I'm generally not a fan of fairy tales, but this collection intrigues me.

Zibilee said...

I have been itruigued by this book ever since hearing the title. I do really like Bulgakov, and consider The Master and Margarita to be one of my favorite reads, so I just know that I would enjoy this book as well. As it is, my reading of Russian literature has been slack lately, so I have been loving these posts and culling a sort of reading list out of them, and this book definitely makes the cut! Thanks for the very thoughtful review!

diaryofaneccentric said...

Sounds like a good book. I just love the title!

contemplatrix said...

your review is lovely. I've been hesitant to add this to the to-be-read pile, because its sounded a bit too creepy for me, but I may have to give it a go, at least to read the stories you highlighted...you have me intrigued.

~L

Kathleen said...

I love Shirley Jackson so if this writer is anything like her, I will love her work!

Erin said...

I've seen this title before--it's definitely a memorable one! Though the book sounds a little bit weirder than I usually enjoy. Glad you liked it!

Frances said...

Liking the thought of a de-politicized fairy tale read. And have to admit that both the title and cover have captured my imagination.

sherid said...

That looks very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I didn't even know there was a Shirley Jackson award, that's awesome! *Must google SJ award winners*

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I do need to dive into more Russian literature than what I've ever done before. I've not heard of this particular collection, and maybe this is what I can start with -- not to mention that I like a good fairy tale, so it would be interesting to see how these are written.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This one sounds great, and yours is the first review I've read. Thanks Marie

Amy said...

This sounds great - can't wait to read it at some point!

reviewsbylola said...

I am ashamed to admit that I have had this one for a year and still haven't read it.

jewwishes said...

The title alone grabs me...

Jeanne said...

After some careful consideration, I am buying this book for my daughter for Christmas. It sounds right up her alley.