To the Bemused (The Bastard 6)

Seeing as I’ve been writing about a novel concerned with the nature of correspondence, it only seems right that I should introduce some correspondence of my own, written in response to issues arising from both old and new reviews of Boris Yashmilye’s fiction.

‘I am bemused,’ writes my letter writing friend (whose name shall remain unknown). ‘More than that: I am positively flummoxed. And let me tell you why’. Tell away, I say, tell away. ‘It is principally a matter of dates’. Ah yes, 1066 and all that. Unless of course you refer to the edible drupe of the date palm tree. No? All right: go on. ‘Your review of Boris Yasmilye’s first novel, written some years ago now, refers to your having read the book as a student, only to imply that it was written, at the earliest, in the late 1980s, almost a decade after your student days. Perhaps you could explain this curious discrepancy’. Perhaps I could, perhaps I could… But stop: there is more. ‘On top of this, I find in your more recent review of Yashmilye’s career [see this post] a distinct reluctance to confirm the dates of all his novels, or to offer an explanation as to how and why the writer seems to have written only five novels over the space of twenty-five years. Slow progress, is it not?’

Truth be told, these are all good questions. So let’s throw some facts upon the table. Boris Yasmilye’s debut novel was, as far as I know, first published in 1991. A rather poor English translation appeared the following year, later superseded by a much better, albeit controversial, translation in 2005. Yashmilye’s second and third novels were published in 1994 and 1997 respectively. I can’t recall the dates of their English translations. Out Damned appeared in 2003. Translations of this exist but have yet to be published. The Bastard was published this year. Again, a translation exists, but no willing publisher.

Meanwhile, your point about my claims to have read Yashmilye’s debut as a student is well-made. I note, in retrospect, that the tone of my review (to be found here) is indeed a little misleading. I appear to suggest, do I not, that I first encountered Yashmilye as a young, fresh and quite possibly foolish man; that Flashes at Midnight was one of those books one falls in love with in the days of one’s youth – and fears, in later life, of offering no more than an air of nostalgia.

This, as you have no doubt realised, cannot be true. For in fact I was in my late thirties when Yashmilye’s book was published; no fresher than cut-price carrots: a bright young thing whose bulb had long since broken. And yet, and yet – I was, officially, still a student. Those were still student days. So too, indeed, are these present days. I am, after all, still engaged on my doctorate; ever the pupil in the classroom of life, eager to learn and never less than keen to confess my eternal ignorance.

As for your second point (or was it the third? I forget…) you will have noticed that Yasmilye has actually, according to these facts, written five novels in eighteen years. This is not an awful writing rate, though you are right to draw attention to it, as there is a distinct gap of eight years between his third and fourth novel; one which ought, I admit, to have been underlined at a previous juncture. Though I can’t at present supply a precise reason as to why Yashmilye took so long to produce Out Damned, certain details may go some way to alleviate your concerns. Chief among these is the fact that Yasmilye, like a lot of obscure European novelists, simply does not make enough money from his writing to support himself. This is a point much overlooked by critics, I confess – and one which we should make every effort to address in the future. For the truth is that many European novelists have alternate careers; careers which can, on occasion, pull them away from their literary concerns.

Yashmilye falls into this camp. During the period in which his five novels have been published, he has held a variety of other jobs, from bookseller to bookmaker, from farmer to pharmacist. For a man as talented as he, this is far from ideal. It is, however, the sad reality of things. Whether this completely explains the eight year gap I cannot quite say, but it must be kept in mind, if only to serve as a much-needed reminder of the far-from-charmed lives than so many of our great writers lead.

One last thing. As a postscript my close-reader of a correspondent writes: ‘A final query. Your original Yashmilye review tells of how you spend every June and July in your summer cottage in Vladivostock. I presume that means you are there now’.

I offer only a short answer to this one: don’t presume anything.

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