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The Crime of Olga Arbyelina
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About the Author

Andrei Makine was born in Siberia in 1957, and taught at the University of Novgorod. In 1987 he left the Soviet Union and sought asylum in Paris, where he lived rough before finding teaching work. His first novel was published in France in 1990, once he'd pretended he'd only translated it from another Russian's original. His third was published under his own name and Olga Arbelina's Crime is his fifth.

Reviews

The intricate thoughts and fears of a Russian ‚migr‚ mother take center stage in this elaborately haunting work from the author of Dreams of My Russian Summers. In 1947, in Villiers-la-Forˆt, France, Sergei Golets, an unlicensed doctor and former officer in Russia's anticommunist White Army, drowns in a boating accident. His companion, Princess Olga Arbyelina, survives: she claims to have murdered Golets, though the police are sure his death was an accident. Why would the princess accuse herself of homicide? The answer emerges gradually amid Olga's lyrically tangled (and chronologically disarrayed) memories. Olga's husband, a swashbuckling poet, left her in 1939, when their hemophiliac son was seven. Since then Olga has lived with her frail son among the other Russian exiles in Villiers-la-Forˆt. In 1946, Olga discovers she's pregnant, and travels to Paris for an abortion. Though she has a lover, the pregnancy puzzles her, since its timing doesn't match his visits. One day she spots her teenage son shaking something into the flower infusion she drinks before bedtime, and understanding floods her: he has been drugging her in order to enter her bed. Tormented by her fears for his future (he is sure to die young), and by dread of her own old age, she decides to let him continue his incestuous practice, pretending continued ignorance during the day, and feigning unconsciousness at night during his lovemaking. All is, if hardly well, consistently settledÄuntil Golets, her son's doctor, confesses that he has spied on them. Abetted by Strachan's sinuous translation, Makine gives Olga such a rich interior life that other characters, including the nameless son, seem like shadows her psyche casts. But readers in tune with Makine's goals will not object. Olga's involuted, tormented consciousness becomes a sophisticated pleasure in its own right, and a metaphor for the displaced, disintegrating aristocracy. That same consciousness, and the events that destroy it, invoke larger mythic patternsÄCupid and Psyche, Beauty and the Beast. Makine's novel possesses the feverish beauty of a hothouse culture in its final efflorescence. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

'Beautifully observed and lyrically exptressed, the novel slowly ... pieces together the mosaic of Olga's inner life as she begins to lose her mind. Returning obsessively to the tiny details of domestic life, the creak of a door, the gap in the curtains and the texture of the surface of a cup the effect is hauntingly claustophobic. But the greatest achievement is in the portrayal of Olga's son, a nameless youth with translucent skin and blood that will not clot, whose spectral presence is sensed, but never captured, in this tragic story of misplaced erotic love.' Natasha Fairweather, The Times, August 99 'Though his blend of memory and imagination has won him comparison with Proust, his broad sweep and mystical vision, his emotional intensity and lyrical elan...belong to the tradition of nineteenth-century Russian novelists.' Shusha Guppy, The Independent 24.7.99 'this is an intriguing novel about a Russian immigrant woman who lives in a small French town with her only son just after the second word war...the novel is neatly framed...Makine's meticulous, lyrical prose- served well by this sensitive translation- is all the more impressive because his first language is Russian (he writes in French)...he charges space with tension and the inanimate with meaning until the curtain rings are sinister, the position of a shoe is shocking and a lamp base causes a significant turning-point...Makine deserves our full attention, he exerts impressive control over these themes, hops back and forwards through time with ease, and ultimately neverforgets the value of a simple and compelling story.' Lucy Atkins, The Sunday Times 'The intricate thoughts and fears of a Russian emigre mother take center stage in this elaborately haunting work...Olga's involuted, tormented conciousness becomes a sophisticated pleasure in its own right...That same consciousness, and the events that destroy it, invoke larger mythic patterns- Cupid and Psyche, Beauty and the Beast. Makine's novel possesses the feverish beauty ofa hot-house culture in its final efflorescence.' Publishers Weekly, 26.7.99 'Beautifully observed and lyrically expressed, the novel slowly ... A tragic story of misplaced erotic love' -- The Times 'Though his blend of memory and imagination has won him comparison with Proust, his broad sweep and mystical vision, his emotional intensity and lyrical elan ... belong to the tradition of nineteenth-century Russian novelists' -- Independent 'Intriguing ... meticulous, lyrical prose ... he charges space with tension and the inanimate with meaning ... Makine deserves our full attention' -- The Sunday Times 'An elaborately haunting work ...Olga's involuted, tormented conciousness becomes a sophisticated pleasure in its own right ... Makine's novel possesses the feverish beauty of a hot-house culture in its final efflorescence' -- Publishers Weekly Structured like a crime novel, but told in the language of a poet... It's a thrilling book, lit with the soft light of despair, withpassages which should shock but whose style caresses, melting this scandalous story into a captivating melody. The readers of "Le Testament Francais" will rediscover in "Olga Arbelina's crime" Andrei Makine's beautiful and supple writing, his relish for the waking dream.' -- FIGARO LITTERAIRE

As this moody tale opens, Olga, a beautiful Russian emigr‚ now estranged from her husband, Prince Arbyelin, and living in the little village of Villiers-la-Forˆt, is acquitted of murdering a fellow emigr‚ despite her protestations of guilt. The reader eventually discovers, however, that the real "crime" occupying Olga's mind is quite different. Over the past months, she has discovered a residue of sleeping powder in her nightly tea; her hemophiliac son, ever on the verge of death, has been drugging her so that he can engage in sexual explorationÄsomething to which she finally consents, pretending to sleep. Of course, this being a novel by Makine (Dreams of My Russian Summers), this act of incest is nowhere near as baldly stated. Instead, in luminous, hypnotic prose that is a bit like a drug itself, he unfolds the delicate situation between mother and son, seen as if through half-closed eyes. These passages at times seem overlong and overwrought, but the description of Russia on the verge of revolution is gripping and the ending a melancholy shock well worth the wait.ÄBarbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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