Wednesday 12 January 2011

Waterstone's Woes

I have been following with – forgive the cliché – some trepidation the latest on Waterstone's restructuring. I have read comments on the Bookseller website suggesting there may be some grand announcement tomorrow. I'll keep my fingers crossed – a healthy Waterstone's is essential for a healthy bookshop environment in the UK. Without W's it'll be over for many publishers, and that would create some unbalance in the industry. Let's hope they can overcome their problems.

Two more books have gone to the printers, and they're among my all-time favourites, so I am particularly proud. The first one is The Great Gatsby, and the second one is The Tale of how the Two Ivans Quarrelled (with other Russian comic fiction, including stories by Krylov, Saltikov-Shchedrin and Tolstoy).

I have proofread the Gogol story between yesterday evening and this morning, and although it must be the twelfth time I have read it (and the second translation of it I publish), I can't help laughing out loud at several passages, such as:

"I must admit that I don’t understand why things are so arranged that women can take us by the nose as deftly as they do the handle of a teapot. Either their hands are just made that way, or our noses aren’t better suited for anything else. And despite the fact that Ivan Nikiforovich’s nose was quite a bit like a plum, she took him by that nose and led him around like a dog."


"…he asked, almost with annoyance – something he displayed very rarely, even when burning paper was put on his head…"


“Ivan Ivanovich is of a rather timid character. Ivan Nikiforovich, on the contrary, wears big, baggy pants…”

Barmy, unpredictable, hilarious – sheer genius.

OK, some bits may be over the top and grotesque, but I think this is one of the best short stories ever written (so thought Pushkin, Belinsky and Nabokov, by the way), and definitely it's one of the best comic short stories ever written. If you haven't read it, do try Guy Daniels' lovely translation – which is going to be available in the next ten days or so.

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