Anton Chekhov was a Russian writer who lived in the late 19th/early 20th century. He was a pretty good playwright but I’d say his short-stories are his best work. I’m not alone is thinking that either; even Wikipedia says he’s ‘considered to be among the greatest writers of short fiction in history’ (although it doesn’t specify exactly who considers this to be true, but I promise I didn’t edit it).
I don’t think of Chekhov as a light-hearted writer. He described his first play The Cherry Orchard as a comic farce but very few people agree. There are comic elements there but they are rather overshadowed by the tragic elements.
I don’t think his short stories fit neatly into a category either, but they don’t tend to be funny. Yes, they are engaging, beautifully written glimpses into a life, but not one of them has ever made me laugh (well, except for maybe The Story With No Name. No two of them have ever made me laugh!). He is a great writer though, and a sentence or two will get you interested in a story, in a new character, even if they aren’t human.
Misery – To Whom Shall I Tell My Grief? (happy title, right?) starts with a description of snow and Iona, the sledge-driver, waiting for a customer to drive so he can make a little money. But it was the description of Iona’s horse that really got me:
His little mare is white and motionless too. Her stillness, the angularity of her lines, and the stick-like straightness of her legs make her look like a halfpenny gingerbread horse.
Not bad for two sentences, hey? It’s even the horse who is first described as being more than a just a shape:
She is probably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away from the plough, from the familiar grey landscapes, and cast into this slough, full of monstrous lights, of unceasing uproar and hurrying people, is bound to think.
I mean, he doesn’t specify exactly what she’s thinking about but it doesn’t sound like she’s a happy horse to me. In which case she’s in good company – Iona isn’t happy either. It seems like the horse is the closest friend he has.
Later, when they are back in the stable, he talks to her:
“Are you munching?” Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining eyes. “There, munch away, munch away… Since we have not earned enough for oats, we will eat hay…” […] The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master’s hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.
To whom shall I tell my grief? To a thinking horse. All the human are rubbish.
Chekhov is a really, really great read. I recommend his plays (and just for once I suggest you get the actual book rather than the Kindle version – I found it much easier to follow but hey, you do you) but I really recommend his short-stories, I rate them very highly indeed. I appreciate there are a lot of them, they are generally pretty short but I get swept away within the first few lines, but if you follow this link, you can get them all for 99p! I know I’m biased here, but it’d be lovely if more people had read some of his work and were willing to talk to me about what they thought.
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