Book of da Week: Nikolai Gogol’s Petersburg Tales

Nikolai Gogol Petersburg Tales
Nikolai Gogol’s Petersburg Tales.

Ho ho ho, it’s Nikolai Gogol’s Petersburg Tales! This consists of a wickedly bizarre set of short stories which remain exceptionally fresh and amusing, even after over 100 years of sitting there on the page ageing. Truly, Gogol was a genius.

The stories are: Nevsky Prospect, The Nose, The Overcoat, and Diary of a Madman. They’re outright mental and possess wicked imagination, enough to clearly influence a certain Franz Kafka. We’ll get to that later. Gogol, of course, is most famous for Dead Souls, but across all of his work he brilliantly mixed surrealism, satire, and dark humour with the macabre. Born in 1809, he had sadly copped it by 1852 aged only 42. Bugger.

Petersburg Tales

Get used to Nevsky Prospect in the opener, as Gogol mentions it a lot! It follows the plight of two love-struck individuals and how they deal with their infatuation. The Nose is where things go through the metaphorical roof, as a man’s nose goes AWOL and begins to pose as a government official. This must, surely, have influenced Kafka’s The Metamorphoses in some way. Surely, sir!

It’s a glorious tale and takes the book from being a bit odd, to outright metaphysical surrealism. This is taken a step further in The Overcoat, where a dullard fusses about the nature of his coat, and The Diary of a Madman. The closer really goes all out for it, with a man keeping a diary suddenly leaping to the year 2000 and announcing himself to be the King of Spain to his colleagues.

Later, on the “86th Marchtober, Between day and night” our resident lunatic informs his diary, “Today our administrator came round to order me to go to the office, since it’s already over three weeks that I haven’t been to work. I went to the office for a laugh.” Outwardly this is one of the least shocking announcements in this story, but as a duty bound office worker himself, Mr. Wapojif can’t help but aspire to one day being able to go to work for “a laugh”.

What else can we state? Way ahead of its time, still astonishingly fresh, and lovely and amusing to boot. It’s a short old tome, so read it fast and, in so doing, turn yourself into a better person.

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