As Heidi Kohlenberg explains in her review, the most remarkable passage in Turgidovsky’s debut novel, The Lunatic, was probably the fourteenth and last chapter, with its direct appeal from the author to his readers: a challenge to take his gospel of unhappiness seriously; one final attempt to ensure that everyone took their exit from the experience as depressed as he. Fierce words, but did they work? Most were of the opinion that he made his case too strongly and that his rhetoric, ultimately, had the opposite effect – it raised a smile, induced a titter; maybe even provoked a smirk.
With the advent of his second novel, many readers were wondering whether he would take another break from the narrative to launch another personal attack on our ridiculous tendency to keep fiddling whilst the world burns. As yet, this hasn’t happened – but then I’m only half way through. What is certain, so far, is that Turgidovsky has, once again, been thinking of other Russian writers. Chekhov (discussed below) also appeared in The Lunatic (one of the characters, you may remember, was stalking a man she believed to be a reincarnation of Anton), as did Pushkin, Lermontov and Boskakov, not to mention some of the great composers: Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Gerenko. Gogol is also on his mind; which explains the colourful parody of The Government Inspector which takes place in Chapter Three, where a hapless school inspector is presented with a series of shocking bribes (and I mean shocking).
All of this raises an interesting point. Turgidovsky rarely deals with art directly, but clearly it has a hold on him which he is reluctant to go into. He is obsessed with the idea that life is not worth living – and yet he lives. So what keeps him going? Is it the need to spread his unhappy message to all the others, or is it the fact that, on one level, he is actually enjoying himself? I am tempted to support the latter, with the possibility that it is art, more especially literature and music, that fuels his peculiar rocket. He recognises that misery often leads to great art. And he loves it despite himself.