Ben Winch's Reviews > The Letter Killers Club

The Letter Killers Club by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
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really liked it
bookshelves: russian, lost-modernists, mainland-european, short-stories

Then I told them about experiments in cultivating flowers without light: the result, curiously, is always an exceedingly tall branching plant, but put that gloom-grown specimen next to ordinary plants used to night and day and you will find it fragile, withered, and pale.
I’ve read this – an early-mid example of K’s work, written when he was new to Moscow and hadn’t yet sampled the failure that was to be his experience of publishing – twice now, and find it to be immune to the above description, maybe ‘gloom-grown’, but unlike the later work I’ve read (NYRB’s Memories of the Future) not tall, fragile, whithered or pale. Branching, yes: five stories, which could stand independently, fused to the central conceit of the Letter Killers Club, a Saturday evening ritual conducted by authors dedicated to non-publication, in which they narrate, discuss, improvise and re-contort their conceptions. Ingenious, meticulous, solidly crafted, the branches of this bansai balance beautifully, yet the result is some hybrid which baffles as it inspires. The workmanship, now that is inspired. And the stories taken alone – they (mostly) are too. But what madness or genius fused them together, and why? I’m made to view them as one, yet they want to fracture, to part. The result: a kind of two-tiered hologram; it’s one, it’s many. BAM! K’s super-finely wrought miniature explodes; the tensile strength of its joins is what explodes it. Because make no mistake, this is seamless. Yet nothing can hold a story like the central one (scientists sever brains from bodies en masse and use the resultant slave-labour to create an anti-human utopia); no frame can help but fade to grey in its shadow. Borges, Poe, Walser; K – slightly arch as he may be – is not out of place in their company. But I suspect after The Letter Killer’s Club he cultivated increasingly in darkness. Memories..., while strong in parts, has that over-reach of the too-branching specimen. But whatever he writes, the flavour is so exotic, even when subtle, it’s irresistable.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 22, 2012 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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message 1: by Michael (new) - added it

Michael I just read about a new book by K. in the New York Times Book Review. I had never heard about this author befere and have ordered "The Letter Killers Club" now. Have you read other books by K.?

message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Memories of the Future is also good, though patchy. Title story is excellent.

message 3: by Warwick (new)

Warwick Love that quotation you open with.

message 4: by Ben (last edited Feb 03, 2014 08:20PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Great, huh? And I'd say it shows some self-knowledge/foreknowledge on K's part. To a degree, it's his possible creative future he's describing.

message 5: by Ema (new) - added it

Ema I might read this after all, in spite of the mixed reviews it triggers. Interesting analogy with plants cultivated in total darkness versus normal conditions.

message 6: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch I've thought about the analogy a lot myself, Ema. It's like the old saying 'music wants to be listened to'. In the absence of an audience, how do we perform? For example, Fernando Pessoa: you could argue that his ouvre is tall, branching, fragile, whithered and pale all at once, but it has a beauty it could never have achieved under the floodlights of a professional writing career.

I do recommend this book, especially for lovers of Borges.

message 7: by Ema (new) - added it

Ema Well, sometimes, the music is enough for the one who plays it. There is at least one listener, moreover, a performer whose experience is more absorbing than those of an audience (I know this because I used to play the piano).
Now you have an interesting analogy with Pessoa - I haven't read him yet, but I will think of your words when I will get to his work.

message 8: by Ben (last edited Feb 05, 2014 01:51AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch I play the guitar too, and you're right, it is satisfying to play to myself. But I write songs too, and those songs crave an audience.

Yes, read Pessoa!

message 9: by Ema (new) - added it

Ema Ha ha, I know what you mean. I used to compose songs myself and would open the windows while I was playing, so that my neighbours could hear them as well. I received neither feedback, nor complaints, luckily. :)

message 10: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich Wow. Okay. Consider this bought. Great review.

message 11: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Thanks Mr P. Good to see ya!

Seemita 'K’s super-finely wrought miniature explodes; the tensile strength of its joins is what explodes it.'


message 13: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Winch Thanks!

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