Book Review: The Master and Margarita

‘I consider it my duty to warn you that the cat is an ancient, inviolable animal…’

I’m not an expert on Russian literature. That statement could perhaps be a slight understatement in the same way as it would be if I said I am not an expert in quantum physics or if I said I’m not an expert in not taking my top off and dancing in the basement by myself every time I get drunk…

Basically, I have read one previous work of Russian literature and that was Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella The Double. I found that work to be a little impenetrable and so it was of The Master and Margarita. It didn’t help of course that I mistakenly believed the title of the book to be The Master AND the Margarita so I was stunned when Margarita showed up in the second half of the novel as a human woman and not a delicious alcoholic beverage.

I really struggled with Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece if truth be told. It took me numerous sittings and lots of baffled shrugging before I finally started to break through the farcical story to the heart of the matter.

Satan and his various cohorts visit Moscow for a big party and to generally cause mayhem. Along the way, they meet a man in turmoil who is writing a book about Pontius Pilate and his doting mistress Margarita. Madness and chaos ensues on an epic scale.

The Master and Margarita is at times a difficult book, not least because of the sheer number of characters, but the main set pieces, including Satan causing the death of a man and later putting on a conjuring show to the Moscow public, are memorable and captivating. It is the second half of the book where things really come together however and the final third of the novel made my initial struggle completely worth it.

A truly original work. Recommended for people who are interested in the devil but are a little more intelligent than me. So everyone then.

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