TARP No. 24 – ‘The Spectre of Alexander Wolf’ by Gaito Gazdanov

Who? Gaito Gazdanov, Russian emigre who L’Express¬†aptly analogised as: ‘If Proust had been a Russian taxi driver in Paris in the 1930s’. Good-looking chap.

What? A metaphysical exploration of death and doppelgangery through a tense, Paris-based noir francaise (a la russe).

When? 1947.

How? Through a rambling, unpredictably-paced, syncopated narrative structure, combining hard-boiled thrillerisms, metaphysical philosophy and tres French dialogue.

Why? Gazdanov’s musings on death and its existential effects on the fatalists that dwell upon it absolutely belong with the tradition of French language authors who brought morbid animation to postwar European literature – not just Camus, but Sartre, Kundera and others. The philosophy of Gazdanov, vague as it is, is hung loosely on a murder mystery/deadly double motif, and this combination gives the narrative a perfect basis for an adaptation amongst the Nouvelle Vague; as far as I know, that never was. Action begets consequence begets action begets consequence in an unfathomable and unbreakable chain, punctuated (as you would expect) by death and its surrounding aura, the catch being that in the end (like any realistic examination of life), almost all pointers led to a dead end. Gazza is purposefully obtuse, and seems happy to lead a largely-unlikeable protagonist around situations whose significance is explicitly obscured. At times indulgent, at others beautifully restrained, Alexander Wolf provides a disordered view of a disorderly subject, and deserves perhaps to be chain-smoked alongside, enjoyed, and then shelved.

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf is available as a Pushkin Press paperback.

21 May 2017

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