Dipping a toe into the Russian literature waters this week led to the discovery of The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. This novella is unique, interesting, and maddening. I loved it!
What is intriguing about the story of a man driven mad by jealousy is how modern it feels. Whilst reading it, I was reminded of two very different things. One: the confessional nature of cross country trips; and two: the importance of pre-marital counseling.
On the first: The protagonist of the story, Pozdnischeff, meets the narrator and without hesitation launches into his life story of hatred, anger, and violence toward his wife. All this while riding on a train through the night, half hidden by the darkness. It would play like a ghost story if it were not grounded by semi-frequent interjections by the narrator, jostling the reader back to reality. It reminded me of the numerous times I have been riding on a plane only to have a complete stranger tell me their life story in the time it takes for the beverage cart to be wheeled out. It seems when certain people meet their fellow passenger on a plane or train, they feel they have met their confessor. One will hear of illnesses, childhood traumas, sins, and the short-comings of one's spouse. Thankfully, it is still rare to hear a confession of murder given out willy-nilly by a complete stranger.
This leads to the second: It seems Pozdnischeff and Mrs. Pozdnischeff would have benefited greatly from a little modern-day pre-marital counseling. I mean there is more to marriage than sex, or at least I have heard tell of it. Maybe their honeymoon would not have been so harrowing. The post-connubial experience of this couple is described by the husband, in a chapter entitled Punishment, as "a period of shame, tediousness,and it soon became an unbearable torture." It seems that no one told the unhappy couple that marriage comes with compromise and the understanding that you don't always have to be right. Also missing from the preparation course was instruction on dealing with jealousy. The token fiery lovers of this story let their passions inflame them a little too much.
This story is truly captivating. The way Pozdnischeff expounds upon his theories of infidelity, the cessation of procreation, and justifiable homicide is thought-provoking (not in the "oh,-so-now-I-can-kill-my-husband" way, but in a "how-would-you-respond?" way). Equally captivating and a must when reading this novella is the sonata on which it is based. Violin Sonata No. 9 by the incomparable Beethoven must be played just as it is mentioned in the story. If you push play at the exact moment it is mentioned, it should take you through the rest of the book very nicely.
Rating: 5.7 out of 7