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“A postmodern literary masterpiece.” –The Times Literary Supplement
Ten years in the writing, Tatyana Tolstaya’s only novel, The Slynx, takes place some two hundred years after “the Blast” put an end to civilization. People in this post-apocalyptic world eat mice and worms and have forgotten how to make a fire. In the aftermath of the Blast, they suffer from what they call “consequences,” ranging from tails to claws to gills, and they get around on “degenerators,” mutant half-humans who run on all fours. It is a sad excuse for a life, but to our hero, Benedikt, it seems cozy enough. After all, he’s happily employed as a scribe, copying various texts–including some that may seem surprisingly familiar to readers–said to be composed by Fedor Kuzmin, Glorybe, the Great Leader of this squalid land, where all other literature is prohibited to the people on pain of death.
All this is the familiar stuff of dystopian fiction. Tolstaya’s virtuosic trick is, however, to turn it into pure vaudeville, though vaudeville that packs a serious punch. Benedikt, the little man, is lifted into a life of privilege and given access to the books. Before long, indeed, he has become a true book-lover–which is to say, the bibliophile from hell.
Like Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Tolstaya’s novel is a shimmeringly ambiguous work of art: an account of an utterly degraded world that is full of echoes of the sublime literature of Russia’s past; a grinning portrait of human inhumanity; a tribute to art in both its sovereignty and its helplessness; a vision of the past as the future in which the future is now.