"I would pretend (metaphorically) to have seen nature and universe themselves not as a picture made or fastened on an immovable wall, but as a sort of painted canvas roof or curtain in the air, incessantly pulled and blown and flapped by a something of an immaterial unknown and unknowable wind." - Boris Pasternak, Letter (in English) to Stephen Spender, August 22, 1959
This quote sits atop the introduction to the new Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, and reflects what I have found to be most appealing about the novel - the often elegant personification of nature amidst occasionally leaden and awkward prose. Like in this early sentence - "When the wind gusted, the leafless acacia bushes thrashed about as if possessed and flattened themselves to the road." Just lovely.
But I came to the introduction after reading Book One. After feeling a little mystified as to what I had gotten myself into with this read, and searching for a salvaging viewpoint. And Pevear assured me that the book speaks for "something else" besides the most frequent assumptions about the work - that it is either "a good, old-fashioned, nineteenth-century historical novel about the Russian revolution, an epic along the lines of War and Peace" or "a moving love story, or the lyrical biography of a poet, setting the sensitive individual against the grim realities of Soviet life." But Pevear's "something else," his argument for the unique qualities of the novel, his assertion that this was a novel of "formal innovation," an "experimental novel," came off a little hollow to me. The reality of the reading experience for me so far is mild boredom and an occasional need to re-read sentences whose meaning do not immediately convey. And scattered discoveries of very pretty turns of phrase.
And I keep thinking of Nabokov's famous dismissal of Pasternak's work."Doctor Zhivago is a sorry thing, clumsy, trite and melodramatic, with stock situations, voluptuous lawyers, unbelieveable girls, romantic robbers and trite coincidences." Now it is true that Doctor Zhivago was eclipsing Lolita in sales, and that Nabokov disagreed with Pasternak's political views so his motivations may have been somewhat askew in letting loose with this condemnation, but I still see some truth in it.
I want to like this book more than I actually do half-way through. Will Book Two change my mind? Hoping the rest of you are enjoying more. Will post links to other opinions later in the day on Tuesday.