The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

When I announced in English today that I’d read this novel – describing The Master and Margarita as ‘Satan causes havoc in Russia’ – I was met with the kind of look that said ‘You need to step away from the books and go outside’. Although I acknowledge there is an element of truth in this advice, the reception in regards to my reading endeavours was frosty. Or confused. Either way, English class, believe me when I say that this novel is an absolute riot.

Despite the accuracy of my description (Satan (Woland) and his entourage do indeed cause mayhem in Russia, including various deaths and a talking suit), I realise that it is not the most compelling. Unless you’re the same, lonely person with a horrific sense of humour, I doubt that it’ll make you pick up said Gothic novel. Honestly, if you think that Wuthering Heights is Gothic, you’ve got a hell of a shock coming to you. Yes, Heathcliff digging up Catherine’s lifeless, decomposing body is a stomach churner, but it is nothing compared to the antics that Woland conjures up here. Masquerading as a travelling magician, specialising in séances and black magic, Woland, Azazello (fanged and ginger), Koroviev (pince-nez) and Behemoth (walking, talking, alcohol drinking black cat) take root in Russia and have a hell of a time confusing the Russian public. Bulgakov’s imagination must have been on fire when writing this one – the monstrosities are vivid and alive, and the ball hosted by Woland is Bulgakov’s descriptive crown jewel.

But don’t be fooled that this is similar to one of those winding, eighteenth century novels where everything just plods on in intense domestic monotony until something vaguely interesting happens and the protagonist is forced to make a decision and then everyone dies. Shit goes down here. Woland is a Machiavellian politician on speed, a bit like Iago in the sense that he is inherently evil, but with unlimited power and actual black magic. He’s a ****, but he’s a lovable ****.

The namesakes of the novel, Margarita and the master, possess a transcendental bond that touched even my shrivelled heartstrings. In my opinion, the Master and Margarita is not primarily a novel about love, rather, it describes its infinite power over all. Above evil, above Woland, above a vicious cat that rides trams. In the words of my English teacher, if you don’t believe in that, ‘you may as well buy the cats now and start watching Jeremy Kyle for the rest of your life’.

There’s something for everyone here – for the Satanists, for the romantics, for the tired teenager who just wants to bugger off and read a satire/bugger off and join Woland in his antics. There’s a giant feline, for crying out loud. Possibly one of my favourite reads this year.

Thanks to the book blogger who reviewed this book way back, introducing me to the wonderful world of Mikhail Bulgakov. Does anyone else have any recommendations similar to the Master and Margarita?

(Also I forgot to mention that intertwined with the narrative concerning Woland is a narrative about Pontius Pilate. Slightly confusing initially, but all is revealed at the end.)


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