Boris Yashmilye’s new novel, The Bastard, consists – as previously noted – of a story stitched together through the correspondence between the author (or author substitute Ivan Grilenko) and three women. The result is somewhat of a chaotic compromise, cunningly lifted from the quagmire of ineptitude by the careful use of our old friend the footnote. Through this the novel becomes less of a poorly constructed patchwork quilt, and more of a subtle exploration of the implications of a poorly constructed patchwork quilt. The difference between the two may be negligible: nonetheless it saves the novel.
Throughout the book, one particular question reappears: are the three women aware of each other, or is each of them under the impression that they are in sole correspondence with the wily Grilenko? The truth is that all three have their suspicions; the narrative is too choppy for them not to, too fraught with incriminating possibilities; but these come out, not in forthright accusations, but in delicate underhanded allegations, quietly woven into the fabric of this strange, cooperative tale. The story is, thus, a great nest of pulsating emotions: a fantastically intricate four way dialogue – an almighty bust-up, you could say, squeezed through the sieve of a peculiar little story about pelicans, pirates and potassium-rich potatoes.
More on this – i.e. the pelicans – a little later.