Book of da Week: The Case of the General’s Thumb

The Case of the General's Thumb - Andrey Kurkov
Thumbs? The general has one.

After reviewing Andrey Kurkov’s Penguin Lost last week (the sequel in the two-part Death and the Penguin series), it’s time for the Case of the General’s Thumb. This novella once again deals heavily with political satire, surrealism, and dark humour, with Kurkov focusing on political shenanigans to formulate a fun and eerily sinister tale.

As this is a short novella, this will be quite a short review! So there. First published in 2000, it made its way into English a few years later. All we can state is Kurkov is quite the master at taking the concept of the secret militia and spinning out a bizarre tale of weird happenings behind the Soviet curtain. With peculiar under dealings and some nefarious plot always just around the corner, you never know quite what’s going to happen in his stories. This, we must say, is fantabulous.

The Case of the General’s Thumb

Whilst Kurkov has, over the last two decades, specialised in concise marvels such as this, more recently he’s produced the Bickford Fuse which met with strong reviews in 2016 and is a lengthier work than his previous efforts. We’ll get to it another time, for today we’re having a look at another deadpan look at unfunny things which Kurkov twists with macabre humour.

In the story, the corpse of a high-level army general is found one morning attached to an advertising balloon. After the grizzly discovery, lieutenant Viktor Slutsky is drafted in to figure out what has happened. As this plays out, a KGB officer arrives in Kiev on a secret mission. Inevitably, the two become embroiled in a battle which is waging between Russian and Ukranian civil services.

The plot could have been easily turned into a James Bond novel or whatnot, but (as with all of Kurkov’s work) the existential overtones, evident criticism of Soviet communism, and dark humour add an extra edge to it which shift it away from the anachronistic world of Mr. Bond, his martinis, and his preening.

At less than 200 pages, you’ll blast through the Case of the General’s Thumb in no time, which is a bonus as we’re aware many of our reader’s don’t have the time to wade through War and Peace type novels. As a result, it stands as an ideal introduction to one of the world’s leading artists and a writer who, at 55, has decades ahead of him to continue grafting these subdued masterpieces.

This is definitely one to add to your bookshelf – the distinctive artwork by Ian Bilbey for all of Kurkov’s Vintage editions make it stand out a mile from other novels. It’ll look marvellous amongst your collection as a result – plus, it’s a lively, chilling, quirky, fun piece of reading.

Interestingly, Kurkov has also written four children’s books so the man has great versatility. Whilst other, louder novelists receive widespread attention for their work, this brilliant Ukranian writer is a living legend and should be added to your reading list pronto.

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