Farren's Reviews > The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them
by Elif Batuman
by Elif Batuman
May 05, 10
A collection of nonfiction essays gleaned from Batuman's days as a Russian Lit post-grad at Stanford. While her description and diagnosis of novels was illuminating, it also sometimes got a little pedantic and lecture-y. I was most entertained by the similar absurdities of dwelling in academia and eastern europe. The book posits itself at the outset as something trying to get *past* the novel. Having diagnosed all writers, in the foreward, with the desire to emulate their own favorite novels, she declares that she is going to write a different kind of book, a book that is not just a mimicry of her own favorite books. The premise worried me. Then the final, titular essay dealt with the theory of mimetic desire (about which she declared herself skeptical) and I realized this is my problem with the enterprise of the entire book. Batuman rejects the theory of mimetic desire, she says, because it disregards real love--the love of a reader for a truly great work of literature, for example. But Batuman, in her introduction, shies away from the concept of writing a straightforward novel specifically BECAUSE of her internalized ideas of mimetic desire. This to me throws the entire project of this book into question -- besides which, the book isn't a post-novel, really. It's not even a memoir. It's a collection of humorous/literary nonfiction essays.
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