To populate a historical or literary era familiar from the classics with werewolves, vampires and other evil spirits is not a new technique, but it works almost flawlessly. Yulia Yakovleva, known to a wide audience as the author of dashing detective stories, and to a more refined audience as a historian of Russian ballet, could not resist the temptation. Critic Lidia Maslova presents the book of the week, especially for Izvestia.
M.: Alpina non-fiction, 2022. – 464 p.
The new novel by Yulia Yakovleva can be seen as a kind of spin-off of War and Peace, but with a powerful injection of fantasy about werewolves. The action takes place in the Smolensk province on the eve of the Napoleonic invasion. The imminent war is spoken not only in the drawing rooms of the nobility, but also among the people. In one of the first scenes of the novel, the coachman complains that this year an unusual number of wolves of increased ferocity have divorced: “… they smell the trap. Dogs are torn. Houses are scouring. Lost fear. <...> This is for war, damnit. Wolf, gryat, if he tasted the carrion, there is no turning back.
By this time, the reader has also roughly tasted and felt what Yakovleva is driving towards, starting the first chapter like this: “Hunting for a person is no different from hunting for any other warm-blooded animal. Especially when a person is a beast himself, ”and then offering as an exposition, for a start, a scene where a certain Ivan with a suspiciously sharpened instinct, rushing through the forest, meets a no less suspicious infernal gentleman: “The smell of the master filled Ivan’s head like darkness” .
Gradually picking up transparent hints and adding two and two, one can come to a terrible guess: the hero of the battle of Austerlitz in 1805, and now just the landowner Burmin, loses his human appearance at night and prowls in search of prey. In the light of day, the gentleman is tormented with horror by the suspicion that it was he who, in a clouded mind, pulled up four neighboring peasants. In a normal, upright state, Burmin is not only a pale, interesting, handsome man (“The spitting image of Edmund. Manfred!” – the interested young ladies sort through literary analogies), but also as a person – very good.
Having dismissed all his peasants, he indulges in completely Tolstoyan reasoning: “The fatherland for a peasant is this village, this river, this forest, this meadow, this field. And not some Austerlitz, where he is invited to lay down his head in the name of a goal that is alien and incomprehensible to him. Burmin sets out this concept to his old friend and colleague, General Oblakov, now married to a former Burmin passion. It will soon become clear that the old love has not only not rusted, but it looks like it will spin with renewed vigor when the general’s wife arrives at the Smolensk estate of her parents. It is she who is being driven by a shy coachman, alarmed by the invasion of insolent wolves, while the other passengers of the carriage, meanwhile, amuse themselves with gossip:
A hundred points ahead will be given by the depraved Helen Bezukhova, Yakovlev’s femme fatale, Princess Alina, whom her parents took to Smolensk after some terrible story in St. The old Countess Soloukhina (Burmin’s grandmother), who at the age of 15 became the mistress of Prince Potemkin, also saw all kinds of things. She gives Alina to read “Dangerous Liaisons” by Choderlos de Laclos, an obscene book at that time, which serves as a source of some plot twists by Yakovleva (with the participation of the insidious Alina cosplaying the Marquise de Merteuil) and further thickens the “Invasion” with literary allusions.
And here they are very diverse, and not only from “War and Peace” (to the marriageable bride “mother and father whisper: note,” like Pushkin’s Tatyana), and not only from the 19th century. The peasant werewolf Ivan, turning into a beast, gradually loses the power of speech, and his internal monologue resembles Sharikov, who was operated on back into a dog: “The words were gradually forgotten, crumbled, crumbled. I sniffed. This… This… how to poke… boards… boards… boards… Ba. Ba. Woman. Lady’s spirit. Her scarf. What’s the loss? What does it mean? Looking for this grandmother? May you die! <...> Grabbed you, ste… erased… ste?.. Jumped, you know. Finished it. Thought they would fuss with the master? A peasant or a gentleman is not in this … ra … one … one … We will all be caught someday.
The noble werewolf Burmin, who not only gave his serfs their will, but even after the beginning of the invasion behaves with unreasonable peasants like a father, obviously of the same literary blood as Prince Andrei Bolkonsky. He even appears in his own person, in an inserted episode from “War and Peace”, peeped through the eyes and overheard by the ears of the home teacher Semyon Ivanovich. In the middle of burning Smolensk, he finds a meeting between Prince Andrei and the manager of the old Bolkonsky, Yakov Alpatych:
What is in this mosaic “Invasion” deftly tailored from Tolstoy and other shreds, original? Horribile dictu, but the relations between peasants and bars in Yakovleva are revealed more interestingly and radically than in Tolstoy, who smoothed over sharp corners and limited himself to a mild rebellion of the Bogucharov peasants, which was easily suppressed by two angry shouts of Nikolai Rostov. Tolstoy’s men against Yakovlevsky’s are like lapdogs against volkolaks, so in the coordinate system of the “Invasion” a pitchfork in the side of Nikolenka with his “march home” would be provided. Yakovleva also has more subtle episodes that betray the real degree of deaf class hatred that has accumulated over the years and the envy of servants towards masters. For example, when the maid takes out the chamber pot of the lady, and then maliciously wipes her hands with her fabulously expensive Indian shawl.
And of course, due to objective circumstances, Lev Nikolayevich, unlike Yakovleva, could not afford to saturate the novel so freely with frank sex scenes – between servants, between a mistress and a huntsman, between a rude husband and a young wife who had just begun to understand her mistake. In general, with sex in “Invasion” everything is just as good as with violence, including purely psychological, quiet domestic violence, much more realistic than the fangs of a werewolf, and therefore more terrible.