Ekaterina Sherga’s Подземный
корабль (The Underground Ship) is
a neatly structured novel about Moscow in the noughties, in 2003, a setting
that feels, in Sherga’s treatment, like a terribly lonely place. Sherga builds
her novel in two lines, focusing on two main characters and their living
spaces: Mstislav Romanovich Morokhov, a businessman, has just moved into an
apartment complex called Madagascar and Alexander L. comes to inhabit an
exclusive museum-like store called British Empire.
The Underground Ship tacks more toward atmosphere than plot, and Sherga, who writes with a light but very confident touch, somehow manages to build suspense that draws, in large part, on the two men’s housing situations. Madagascar is a brand-new double-tower complex but Morokhov is its only resident, swimming in the pool, ordering drinks from the bar, and occasionally running across mysterious people who aren’t members of the complex’s staff. The whole Madagascar experience seems more than a little strange; a description of a marketing video that shows a man grilling four huge skewers of shashlik sums things up nicely. The man smiles and the camera pulls away, showing the size of an uninhabited terrace, then we get, “Кого он собрался кормить? Какая-то метафора тотального одиночества.” (“Who was he going to feed? What a metaphor for total loneliness.”)
P.S. I should have mentioned the SLOVO Russian Literature Festival, which begins in London on March 5, ages ago... but better late than never! Thank you to Academia Rossica for the reminder. Here’s the schedule: it includes some fun-sounding events, like, oh, a translator roundtable. I won’t be there but I’m going to Boston for a few days next week, for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, which has some interesting international and translation-related events on the schedule, too.