This is a collection of Chekhov’s short stories, spanning from 1983 with The Trousseau to 1900 with the title story, In the Ravine. I hadn’t read anything by Chekhov before, and I’m usually not a huge short story fan, but a small collection narrated by Kenneth Branagh seemed like a great place to start.
This collected the following stories:
- Oh! The Public
- The Chorus Girl
- The Trousseau
- A Story Without a Title
- Fat and Thin
- The Beggar
- The Orator
- An Actor’s End
- I In the Ravine
- II The elder son Anisim came home very rarely
- III In the village Shikalovo lived two dressmakers
I was surprised by how modern the writing and plot felt in some of these stories. I suppose I get that feeling with a lot of classics, but I think since these are so short and focused it’s easy to imagine some of them happening in our time. If the details of the setting aren’t relevant to the plot, they aren’t provided (Chekhov’s Gun I suppose), and I think that makes some of them feel timeless in a way.
Some of these are actually quite funny. Oh! The Public deals with a clueless train ticket collector dealing with angry customers. He tries to follow the rules but they just lead to more and more issues. The funniest of the bunch, I thought, was The Orator, in which a man at a funeral gives a eulogy but gets his information wrong. Instead of eulogizing the man in the casket, he accidentally speaks about a man in the audience and causes some offence.
Your speech may be all right for a dead man, but in reference to a living one it is nothing but sarcasm!
Hush! is a great little story of a writer blaming his lack of progress on everything around him. Too much noise, and not enough tea. He blames everything but himself and can’t see what a pompous tyrant he is to those around him while he tries to write. It reminds me a bit of when I try to write anything.
I loved Misery. It’s the story of a horse-drawn sledge driver who just lost his son, and he tries desperately to confide in each passenger he picks up. He wants to tell them what happened, but none of them will pay him much mind. It perfectly captures how surreal and isolating it can be to lose someone close, to have your world change so dramatically and then step back into your regular life to find that no one else is affected. To find that your loss is about as relevant to them as the five-day forecast, and how, as selfish as it seems, sometimes you just want to tell someone everything and try to have them understand a bit of what you felt. This man has no one in his life who will listen.
Just as the young man had been thirsty for water, he thirsts for speech. His son will soon have been dead a week, and he has not really talked to anybody yet… . He wants to talk of it properly, with deliberation…. He wants to tell how his son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he died, how he died…. He wants to describe the funeral, and how he went to the hospital to get his son’s clothes. He still has his daughter Anisya in the country…. And he wants to talk about her too…. Yes, he has plenty to talk about now. His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament….
I listened to this on audio, which Branagh narrated perfectly, so I had no idea of Chekhov’s fondness for ellipses until just now. I wonder if that’s common in all of his stories?
Weirdly, In the Ravine was one of my least favourites of the bunch. It seems to be the most popular, so I might have to revisit it at some point and see what I missed. As a whole, though, I really enjoyed this. Maybe I’ll read one of his plays next.