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Monday, 16 December 2013

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

If I may, let me give you a little insight into the review-writing process here at Girl Vs Bookshelf. It is a Sunday afternoon, and I settle down on the sofa fully intending to write a blog post. But wait! Something is amiss. The laptop is plugged in to charge over on the other side of the room. I sigh wistfully, and stare into the middle distance for a time, remembering how much easier life used to be when I was a child. A while later, I call my boyfriend and ask him to bring me the computer. I switch it on and am suddenly struck by how chilly the room is feeling, so I pass some minutes trying to reach for a blanket. Alas, it is too far away from the sofa, so my efforts are abandoned. Wouldn't things be easier if I lived a simple life in the country? Maybe I should have asked him to make me a cup of coffee as well. I look at the clock. It will be time for dinner in around an hour. There's really no point starting writing now.

 If you are enjoying this so far, you will just LOVE Oblomov, as it takes him 100 pages or thereabouts to even get out of bed - a struggle I can truly relate to:

"When the tea had been consumed he raised himself upon his elbow and arrived within an ace of getting out of bed. In fact, glancing at his slippers, he even began to extend a foot in their direction, but presently withdrew it"

Born into the landed gentry in 19th century Russia, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov has lived a charmed life with a very sheltered rural upbringing. As is expected for a young man of his social standing, he has moved to the city to seek an occupation and make a name for himself. Unfortunately a few days' work in the civil service proves far too arduous so he retires to his crumbling apartment with his loyal manservant, Zakhar. And Zakhar's almost as lazy as his master.

You would think a novel about such a bone-idle character would be very dreary, but I loved it. It's full of fascinating ideas about the perils of indolence, on both individual and societal levels. Oblomov himself is a real existentialist and underneath his slothful exterior is a mind asking important questions; primarily, what is the point of living the busy lifestyle of all his peers? In the grand scheme of things it really so essential to fill all our hours going to parties, socialising, burning the candle at both ends in a job we don't enjoy, and generally trying to keep up with the Joneses? And if somebody wants to spend his days minding his own business and doing not much of anything at all, why should anybody else try to stop him? There's also a lot of commentary on the wider state of society in Russia. In particular it's interesting to see how the lackadaisical attitudes of the upper classes might have contributed to the downfall of their huge country estates as they neglected to involve themselves in their own affairs, preferring to entrust all the hard work to distant managers.

This possibly all sounds a bit dry and serious, but there is a wonderful humour throughout the whole novel that is really heart-warming and completely endears Oblomov to the reader.

This might not be one of the most renowned classics of Russian literature but it is certainly the 'friendliest' I've read, so I hope I've brought it to the attention of anyone trying to expand their literary horizons or read more classics. It is not a quick read and requires patience, but I found it entirely worthwhile to spend the time absorbing it. Even if it was a little alarming to find how much I identified with Oblomov's sloth myself...


  1. What a wonderful post. I am of Oblomov's mindset myself.

  2. Next year I am going to try and read more Russian literature and I think, if it is such a friendly read, then I'll add this to my list!

  3. I bought this book on audio with every intent on listening last year and never got to it. And I love the philosophy of Russian literature - you make me want to move it up on my queue.