Thursday, September 11, 2008

REVIEW: Pravda, by Edward Docx

Pravda, by Edward Docx. Published 2007 by Houghton Mifflin. Literary Fiction.

This week for my Tuesday Thingers question, I asked about books that people had read which won awards, or may have read because they won an award (or were nominated). Pravda was nominated for the Man Booker Prize under the title Self Help; the book had a sticker on it saying so and I can say that that sticker, along with my general interest in literary fiction and fiction with a Russian flavor, lead me to buy and read this book.

And you know what? I'm glad I did, because Pravda was a terrific, if low-key read. Elegantly written and literary in style, it's the story of a pair of fraternal twins, Gabriel and Isabella Glover, whose mother has died suddenly and who are left to sort through the secrets of her life, and of their own. These secrets include a son their mother gave up and the truth of her relationship to her children. The two must also sort through the detritus of their own lives- careers, lovers, their wayward father- and somehow make it all make sense. The novel is set in London, New York, Paris and St. Petersburg and Docx makes ample use of the settings, especially in Russia, as characters in and of themselves.

By far the most compelling character is the lost son Arkady, a talented musician struggling to put his own life back together in the chaos of post-Soviet Russia. Like many books that have come out in response to the fall of the Soviet Union, Pravda deals with themes of disappointment, alienation and the disorientation you're left with when the life you have is not the one you were promised. There is so much energy and menace in Arkady, and as the narrative alternated between his story and that of the twins- as their two roads slowly converged- I was waiting with great anticipation for the final confrontation, waiting to see what would happen when the combustible, unstable Arkady lit into the unsuspecting and innocent brother and sister. Not to say that the denouement was a letdown, but let's just say that the real fireworks in Pravda lie elsewhere, with Nicholas, the twins' father and a more substantial source of menace in the twins' life. The themes that apply to Arkady apply equally to them.

Pravda is full of surprises, the biggest being how many plot lines remain unsettled. Some may find this fact disappointing, but I think it's the novel's quiet strength. It's almost post-modern in the way it picks up and drops the threads of the plot, like missed stitches that actually make up the pattern. Pravda is not the book for someone who likes every i dotted and every t crossed- every thread tied into a bow. But if you're looking for a solid, polished, literary page-turner reflecting the chaos of real life, Pravda might be the book for you.

Rating: BUY

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


Alyce said...

What a beautifully written review! You have a way with words. :)

Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of this book, but your review makes me want to read it now! I think whether or not I'm satisfied with books that don't clear up everything by the end depends on how the author handles it. If it looks like an oversight, then I probably won't be happy. Sounds like in this book, it was intentional and well done.

Anonymous said...

A good review. I'm so glad to see a book blogger write about this novel. I borrowed it from my library when it first came. The original cover was plain and awful, just the words Self and Help in red and black on a yellow background. Yes, it was called "Self Help". I read it because it took place in modern day Russia and I loved it. Months later I saw "Pravda" and thought terrific! Edward Docx has another book out. Silly me until I read the review. It's the same book. I'm so glad the book was given a new face and sent back out into the world with a better title.It deserves it.