I cannot call this book by its real title. At least twenty times in this month I've called it "The Master and The Margarita". Perhaps this is because I spent three years expecting it to be about a beverage. Perhaps I have an unhealthy fixation with parallel structure (regardless, we know I have one of those).
I'm closing in on finishing The Master and T... and Margarita, and it's a fascinating piece of work. It's rare that I find any novel with such disparate elements, but it has zany comedy, romance/redemption or high religious pathos. At different points it's reminded me of those cheesy 80's satires that shed their criticism for personal stories of discovery *and* the most profound Historical Fiction. It maintains both its Soviet-era anti-secularism and its Christ-era critical thought, though they come closer to converging, and the ending gets surreal in provocative ways.
Most provocative to me is how the novel challenges what is absurd and what is surreal (damn it, more parallel structure). Both words describe parts of the book, but neither is wholly applicable. Because the scene with the giant talking cat trying to steal candy bars is absurd - it's goofy, impossible, something that doesn't pretend to fit into how the author thinks the world works. But the scene with The Master, an author who went mad trying write a book about Pontius Pilate, having a vision of Pilate struggling to find rest after the execution of Christ, is surreal. The latter scene feels so intense, not fitting with our world and yet unaware of it. Here the absurd and the surreal split: the absurd being what can never be and doesn't care, and the surreal being what can't be and feels like it thinks it could be. Bulgakov's surrealism is disturbing for how convinced it feels it could barge in and upturn us if it wanted to, and brings me back to Borges and the better Kafka.
Which is to say: it's really quite something. I'm too happy to have kept this copy around all these years, and a little guilty for not getting to it sooner, just like Middlemarch last year. Like Middlemarch, there's nothing else quite like this. Other than being unique, there's nothing in common with Middlemarch. Woland would set all that town's nuances on fire.
When I've asked around if any other Russian novelists screw around to the degree Bulgakov did, I've only gotten the answer of Nikolai Gogol. Any recommendations from that canon are welcome. It keeps rewarding me for diving.
A full review of the book should be up on Goodreads (and maybe here) soon. How is your #NaNoReMo coming?