I saw in the new year reading more Chekhov. ‘About Love and other stories’ is another selection and translation of his work by Rosamund Bartlett, the editor/translator of The Exclamation Mark collection I enjoyed earlier in this challenge, and like the earlier collection, ‘About Love…’ presents the stories in chronological order and it is possible to trace the development of his short fiction from early works like ‘The Huntsman’ in 1885 to what is probably his short masterpiece, ‘The Lady with the Little Dog.’
Just as I found with ‘The Exclamation Mark’ it is the thematic breadth of his work that continues to surprise me. You will find more within the covers of this collection than the miserablist cliche that Chekhov, like so many Russian authors, is erroneously painted as. ‘Fish Love’ is a delightful piece of magical realism that tells of a carp who falls in love with a young woman that ends with a deft satirical barb aimed squarely at the literary pessimists amongst Chekhov’s contemporaries. The trilogy of Burkhov and Ivanych stories, presented together in the middle of this collection, discuss the subject of freedom, beginning with the at first humourous depiction of ‘The Man In The Case’ which develops into a more elegiac style by its closing. It is in this dexterous shifting of tone, a feature of many of the stories in this collection, that Chekhov truly shows his mastery of his craft.
Once again, Rosamund Bartlett’s translations are a joy to read; in her capable hands ‘The Lady with the Little Dog,’ a story I have read many times, feels brand new again. ‘About Love…,’ ‘The Exclamation Mark,’ and her superlative collection of Chekhov’s letters are all works I would recommend to anyone looking for an introduction to Chekhov’s short fiction. In these more recent translations his voice and world truly come alive and prove the importance of publishers commissioning new translations of classic works. Chekhov’s work feels timelessly contemporary anyway, but even more so in this wonderful collection of some of his greatest short stories.