Reviewing the Classics #8: Isolde

It’s been a while, I feel, that I’ve reviewed anything but romance on this blog. And for a while, that was actually just about all I was reading. But every once in a while, I need some Literature-with-a-capital-L. And in my case, in particular, that tends to mean something a little bit depressing. And what’d’ya know… Isolde fits the bill perfectly.

The story

Left to her own devices in Biarritz, fourteen-year-old Russian Liza meets an older English boy, Cromwell, on a beach. He thinks he has found a magical, romantic beauty and insists upon calling her Isolde; she is taken with his Buick and ability to pay for dinner and champagne.

Disaffected and restless, Liza, her brother Nikolai and her boyfriend Andrei enjoy Cromwell’s company in restaurants and jazz bars after he follows Liza back to Paris—until his mother stops giving him money. When the siblings’ own mother abandons them to follow a lover to Nice, the group falls deeper into its haze of alcohol, and their darker drives begin to take over.

First published in 1929, Isolde is a startlingly fresh, disturbing portrait of a lost generation of Russian exiles by Irina Odoevtseva, a major Russian writer who has never before appeared in English.

The opinion

This is going to sound almost ridiculous, probably, but there was something inherently Russian about this book. As far as the naturalist movement goes, this book is pretty much a standard example of it.

With Liza as a narrator, you get a fairly naive narration of the entire story. Sure, there’s the occasional scene narrated by someone like Cromwell. But still, for a large portion of the story? You don’t actually know what’s happening.

Or at least, you don’t know anything but what she actually realises. And the more you continue down the book? The more you realise how little that actually is.

Of course I can only say what I know from the translation. However, the style and tone definitely felt very true to similar works I’ve read. And that does make me feel like this translation really succeeded at bringing across the overall feeling of the original work. As far as translations go, that’s a really important one for me – and I definitely feel like I got the “full effect” of Isolde as Odoevtseva meant it.

The rating: 4/5

This is one of those books that is definitely something of an experience to read. You kind of have to delve into it in one go, and see where Isolde takes you. And as for me? Well, it was a great journey to be on! (Goodreads)