Wednesday, February 6, 2013

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

Title: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories
Author: Ludmila Petrushevskaya

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Russia / Moscow / Marriages / Affairs / Motherhood)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Books (1/29/2013)
Source: The publisher

Rating: Love but ohemgee, what painful love!
Did I finish?: Yeah I finished -- in two days, but only because I made myself measure out the stories like pieces of a chocolate bar!
One-sentence summary: Seventeen dark, murky, sad, sour, bittersweet, loving, amusing stories of ordinary people in urban Russia.

Do I like the cover?: How much do I love this cover? THIS MUCH. I love the font/lettering, I love the sad little bouquet and the perfect little table, I love the color scheme, I LOVE I LOVE I LOVE.

I'm reminded of...: Djuna Barnes, Angela Carter

First line: In reality, life doesn't stop with a wedding, with heroic action, or with happy coincidences, as in films, when a certain person misses his boat (Titanic) or, as in this case, when an unmarried woman of thirty-five decides to keep the child born of a random tryst with a boy of twenty., from 'Two Deities'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like short fiction, Russian fiction, horrible horrible human heartbreak portrayed in a darkly humorous light.

Why did I get this book?: I read Petrushevskaya's other collection of short fiction, There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales and loved 'em. Knew I had to get this one and it didn't disappoint!

Review: You know when you start a book titled There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories that you're not going to get happy times. And yet/but/however, Petrushevskaya manages to twist the bitter into something ... not quite sweet, but not so unpalatable.

In her introduction, translator Anna Summers provides a little context for Petrushevskaya's stories; they range from publication in 1972 to 2008, and describe a varying, changing, and changeless urban Russian. (Tip: don't read the introduction until after you read the volume or you'll be spoiled for the twists of all the stories.)

The seventeen stories in this volume range from the outright depressing to the darkly comedic, and they paint an urban Russia filled with tiny apartments cramped with family (usually unemployed), alcoholism, abandoned mothers, mind-numbing jobs, and lovelorn women grasping at affection where they can. The stories that most resonated with me were those of young, gawky teenaged girls, outcasts for one reason or another, self-conscious, shy, prone to irrational crushes, too smart for their own good. Petrushevskaya is gentle with these girls although they don't always have happy endings, they don't have sad ones. (In fact, in all of these stories, the endings could be considered 'happy'. It's a strange kind of happiness, but there you go.) In the end, I felt bemused rather than depressed, and I can't shake some of the images and moments Petrushevskaya evokes.

I can't say whether Summers' translation is good or faithful; the stories read very quick, clean, a little modern in style. I enjoyed them over a few nights, but that was me using epic restraint and not saying up and reading them all in a single night. If you like short fiction, get this; if you like dark Scandinavian crime fic and want the dark without the crime, get this; and if you want a different view of domestic life, women's life, urban life, get this.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of There Once Lived a Girl... to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only. Ends 2/15.


  1. I tried entering the giveaway 3 times and kept getting a submission error. I figured I either did something wrong, entered 3 times, or the form is not working right. It's probably me.

    1. I think it is Google -- not only do I get a submission error but I also can't access my Drive folder with my forms. So annoying! If you're willing to come back and try again, I'd be grateful!

    2. It worked for me if you want to try again!

  2. Oooh this sounds good!! Definitely want to get my hands on a copy :)

  3. Hmm -- I'm intrigued! Definitely sounds like a very different story collection, but I wonder if it would succeed in ripping out my vulnerable lil' heart.

  4. I have Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, but I haven't started it on it yet. I keep meaning too, but blogging kept getting in the way. I plan on reading it this year, soon. I'm going to enter your giveaway, because I want this one too.

  5. I came across this book on a website the other day and was quickly smitten. The next thing I did was search your blog because something told me you'd be reading this book! Yay! I was so happy reading your review because these stories are what I was hoping and better since I didn't expect th darkly comedic inclusion.
    I have to check out the author's first book, too.

  6. I don't normally read short stories although I like some and this one intrigues me simply because of the title. I can't enter the giveaway as I'm in Canada so I'll check it out on Amazon instead.