One of the most curious books I’ve ever read, The Master and Margarita took me on a journey to a place both real and imagined. Whilst clearly evoking the oddities and terror of Soviet Russia, there is also a sense of surrealism that pervades the book and forbids the reader from gaining any sort of even footing in the narrative. The lines between what is reality and what is allegorical are increasingly blurred, making for an impossibly complex narrative.
With many layers to the narrative, I found myself gripped as I discovered puzzle after puzzle: who is the professor? Who is the hero? Who- or what- is the cat? Eventually I began to piece it all together- all the while with a developing sense of foreboding.
Now, though I’ve mentioned much of this book’s hidden depths, it’s important to note that it is better to go into The Master and Margarita as clueless as possible. While it’s good to bear in mind the relevance of the Soviet setting, there is also something timeless about the piece, as it draws parallels between Bulgakov’s present, the demise of Christ and Goethe’s Faust. The time period, as noted in the introduction of my copy, is actually rather fluid- supposedly it’s set in the years of the Great Terror and yet it also very clearly encompasses the period after where the communist rule was more established. More than that, however, the book takes on a distinctly allegorical feel through its extensive use of symbolism, which make it hard to pin it down to a mere reflection of one form of human evil. Yes, it refers to the disappearances and sudden deaths of the Soviet Union, but it is equally a tale of devilish schemes run amok (humorously depicted in an atheistic society).
Of course this is a world where people lose their heads- both literally and figuratively- and yet the narrative doesn’t stop there. The Master and Margarita is at its heart a love story. Surprisingly for such a book, the plot is very heavily centred on romance, perhaps showing how even the purest of human motivations become corrupted by external forces.
This not only adds another dynamic to the novel, but also gives the reader sympathetic characters to latch onto. And it is thanks to this vivid sense of character and place that makes it possible to suspend disbelief and picture this unreal world in its entirety.
Bulgakov certainly brings his almost mythical vision to life- not least with his stunning and strange writing style. The quirkiness of the text is one of its bigger draws and one of the things I loved the most. Again, I don’t think this is something I can describe for you, I just think you’ll have to check it out for yourself:
“The cats sneaking by the veranda had a distinctly morning look. Daytime advanced relentlessly on the poet.”
“What other oddities transpired in Moscow that might not know not, and we certainly will not pry, especially since it is time for us to move on to the second part of this truthful narrative. Follow me, reader!”
“Trousers don’t suit cats, messire,’ replied the cat with great dignity. ‘Why don’t you tell me to wear boots? Cats always wear boots in fairy tales. But have you ever seen a cat going to a ball without a tie? I don’t want to make myself look ridiculous.”
Ultimately, I think this is one of the most magnificent, thought-provoking and fascinating works I’ve ever come across. It’s one of those books I would recommend to everyone- just so they can experience the magic for themselves:
Rating: 5/5 bananas
So have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!