The Crime of Olga Arbyelina

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9780140298420: The Crime of Olga Arbyelina

The summer of '47. In the sleepy town of Villiers-la-Forêt, roughly an hour from Paris, the peaceful radiance of the day is interrupted by the discovery that, along a nearby riverbank, the body of a man has washed up, a gaping wound in his skull. Beside him rests a beautiful, nearly bare-breasted woman, her dress soaked and in tatters. An accident or foul play? A crime of passion? Soon there are almost as many speculations and theories as there are townspeople. The woman, it turns out, is a Russian princess, Olga Arbyelina, a refugee from the Bolshevik revolution who in the 1930s had settled in town along with many of her compatriots. Rumor was that Olga's husband, a dashing prince given to gambling and revels, had deserted her some years after the couple's arrival in France, leaving her alone to care for their young son. About the victim, also a Russian refugee, little is known: many years Olga's elder, he was a taciturn, rather coarse, slightly ridiculous man name Sergei Golets, thought dismissively to be a former horse butcher. What on earth could have brought these two unlikely souls together? Moving back to early in the century, the author meticulously recreates Olga's past-her enchanted childhood; her pampered youth and fevered, transitory embrace of the revolution; her arduous flight toward freedom; her encounter with the dashing White Army officer who saved her life; her marriage and arrival in France; the birth of her adored son. Olga also faced a special problem: her son was afflicted with hemophilia (from which the townspeople who knew concluded that she must be related to the czar). Medicines and medical care were of little help. Yet if love could prevail, she would make him survive. . . . Love has its limits, its limitations and boundaries. But in a woman of great passion, what do such limits mean when you know that each day may be the last for your son?

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Review:

'Beautifully observed and lyrically exptressed, the novel slowly ... pieces together the mosaic of Olga's inner life as she begins to lose her mind. Returning obsessively to the tiny details of domestic life, the creak of a door, the gap in the curtains and the texture of the surface of a cup the effect is hauntingly claustophobic. But the greatest achievement is in the portrayal of Olga's son, a nameless youth with translucent skin and blood that will not clot, whose spectral presence is sensed, but never captured, in this tragic story of misplaced erotic love.'

Natasha Fairweather, The Times, August 99



Another treasure ... Superb, overwhelming, tragic, a typically Russian novel sculpted in dazzling French ( La Vie)

'this is an intriguing novel about a Russian immigrant woman who lives in a small French town with her only son just after the second word war...the novel is neatly framed....Makine's meticulous, lyrical prose- served well by this sensitive translation- is all the more impressive because his first language is Russian (he writes in French)....he charges space with tension and the inanimate with meaning until the curtain rings are sinister, the position of a shoe is shocking and a lamp base causes a significant turning-point....Makine deserves our full attention: he exerts impressive control over these themes, hops back and forwards through time with ease, and ultimately neverforgets the value of a simple and compelling story.'

Lucy Atkins, The Sunday Times



NEW REVIEW

'The intricate thoughts and fears of a Russian emigre mother take center stage in this elaborately haunting work...Olga's involuted, tormented conciousness becomes a sophisticated pleasure in its own right...That same consciousness, and the events that destroy it, invoke larger mythic patterns- Cupid and Psyche, Beauty and the Beast. Makine's novel possesses the feverish beauty ofa hot-house culture in its final efflorescence.'

Publishers Weekly, 26.7.99



'The effect of reading this is akin to lucid dreaming...Makine [is a] writer to watch'

Anita Brookner, Spectator



'Impressionistic, in the manner, to some extent, of Conrad or Ford. That is to say, it is wonderfully vivid. The descriptions of the terrible, in more ways than one, winter of 1946-7 are glittering. Even readers normally bored by descriptions of scenery will find these compelling...[A] remarkable book ...The French novel is alive again, in the hands of a Russian'

Allan Massie, Scotsman



'We move between an intensely lived present and an evanescent past. Makine is dreamy and suggestive one minute and painfully observant the next...Makine manages plot and atmosphere so cleverly that the reader is desperate to know what happens next, but is held when the action is suspended for arresting and minute descriptions. In his evocation of a golden age long past and his delicate, sensual handling of Olga's relationship with her son, he writing brings Nabokov to mind, but there is no doubt that Makine has his own voice'

The Times Literary Supplement

'The book's fascination, and enormous power, is in the nuanced process by which Olga discovers (and we do with her) what this son, whom she thinks of as a boy in need of protection, has been doing to her at night. Monstrous and delicate, convincing and nightmarish, the process challenges your ideas about madness, self-delusion and mother-love in glowing, gauze-silk prose'

Daily Telegraph

'This searing and poetic mystery novel is a worthy successor [to Le Testament Francais]'

Good Book Guide



'Makine's writing is unfailingly powerful. While The Crime of Olga Arbyelina is a good thriller, it is the intermingling of moods that dominates the story.'

'the evocation of Olga's descent into madness is affecting'

Francis Welch, Literary Review, July 1999



'Makine seduces us with the language of a fairytale bef'Beautifully observed and lyrically exptressed, the novel slowly ... pieces together the mosaic of Olga's inner life as she begins to lose her mind. Returning obsessively to the tiny details of domestic life, the creak of a door, the gap in the curtains and the texture of the surface of a cup the effect is hauntingly claustophobic. But the greatest achievement is in the portrayal of Olga's son, a nameless youth with translucent skin and blood that will not clot, whose spectral presence is sensed, but never captured, in this tragic story of misplaced erotic love.'

Natasha Fairweather, The Times, August 99

Book Description:

The stunning new novel by the author of the international bestseller Le Testament Français, a dramatic, sensuous tale set in a Russian emigré community in post-war France.

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