The title of Pyetr Turgidovsky’s new collection of short stories, This World of Shit, is sadly suggestive of the cheaply made Christmas compendiums that we are all well used to seeing at this time of year: those endless gaudy baubles of charmless prose meanly tossed onto the lifeless tree of cynical consumerism (to put it as gently as I can). We could blame this on the translator, were it not for the fact that Turgidovsky was probably aiming for just such a connection. He has such confidence in his particular brand of high-minded literary nihilism that echoes of low art (and one cannot get much lower than Christmas cash-ins) are merely a source of amusement. To commit a crime against good taste has become, for him, something of a daily necessity.
Needless to say, the new stories are typical in this regard. Composed with stunning care, they are yet crammed with crudity of the very highest order. He claims in his introduction that he wants to create the literary equivalent of a blocked toilet. This, I think, he has achieved. Too many of his sentences refuse, after several days, to flush themselves from my mind. There they remain, ever-festering; emitting a ever-changing, but never-improving odour.
As it is, the title is apt. This World of Shit delivers exactly what it promises: a multiplicity of bowel movements. In one story, a peverse gargoyle sitting on the corner of a building in an Italian piazza spends his lazy days pondering over the toiletry habits of the humans below. He takes particular interest in a group of people who appear to frequent the lavatorial facilities of a small art gallery opposite, leading to an array of philosophical meditations on the relationship between art and shit.
In another story a frustrated husband secretly eats his own shit, keeping a detailed diary of his adventures. One does not even want to consider whether or not Turgidovsky’s recreations of this diary gain their success from personal experiences.
There is more. A lot more. Too much more, perhaps. But then this is Turgidovsky, a writer who does not do things in halves. Poo is his subject, and he is determined to make the most of it. Which is not to say that he isn’t inventive with excrement. There are foul things aplenty in this collection, but few of them are repeated unnecessarily. Turgidovsky’s approach, as ever, is both wide-ranging and unexpected. All the old avenues are explored, but new channels are also opened up. Shit there is, in all shapes and sizes, in all situations and circumstances, in all symbolic and sensual guises. Tales of turds come easily to Turgidovsky, that much was obvious even before the publication of his collection; but it is nonetheless satisfying to see him covering typical territory with such terrific poise and precision. It may be hard to stomach at times, but one cannot fault the writer – nor, when all is said and done, the title. Taken together, these stories really do examine a world of shit. What’s more, they argue that this world is worth thinking about it, and writing about, at some length.