Greg Heaney's Reviews > Envy

Envy by Yury Olesha
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Jun 03, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: russia

Envy captures the single greatest hallmark of Russian literature: ambiguity. It is the same sense of confusion that leaves true lovers of Flannery O’Conner saying to themselves “I know this was important… but why?” Olesha’s novel concerns itself with one of the most important ideas in the newly formed USSR, the “New Soviet Man.” Rejecting the alcoholic, bored, womanizing, unorganized model of a true man that used to be famous, Lenin wanted to glorify the youth, virility, equality, and mechanic devotion of Russians to the motherland. Envy shows a number of men, and a few women, who attempt to become this “New Soviet Man.”

As is to be expected, failure abounds. Olesha does a magnificent job of describing the intricate contradictions between the numerous characters and their varying beliefs. The pull and tug between the old and the new, the rich and poor, large and small, known and unknown, hatred and love, all of these make up the conflict Russia faced, moving into the glory that might have been the USSR. The audience is left wondering who can be trusted, who is just putting on a façade, who is a true man, and what in the world Ophelia is. Even the most devoted reader will leave the novel with no answers; immensely happy, but with no answers.

Envy is an incredible portrait of Russia at a difficult and confusing time, especially for its inhabitants. The writing itself is much like the story: full of dreams, lies, deception, and, of course, envy. Who is jealous of whom, what is real and what is a dream, and what are the true motives of the characters, these are all questions the reader is forced to answer with little help. The writing mirrors the labyrinth of lies, leaving the half-informed reader in the same shock of confusion and suspicion as the characters. Any writer who can make his audience feel that has accomplished something special.

Although short, Envy is not a novel for someone unaccustomed to ambiguity. You must have a open mind, or the story will simple stop itself. It is no wonder that the Russian government was equally confused by the novel, as both sides found themselves alternatively glorified and mocked. Easily readable in a long afternoon, Envy is a work that gets inside your head. As we all know, there is no higher praise.
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04/28/2016 marked as: read

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