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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Olga Slavnikova

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To purchase 2017

Title: 2017
Author: Olga Slavnikova
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 414 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: 2017 - US
2017 - UK
2017 - Canada
2017 - India
2017 - France

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Our Assessment:

B : atmospheric, and an interesting style, but a bit long-winded

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Literary Review . 12/2012 Alex Preston
Publishers Weekly . 11/1/2010 .
TLS . 2/7/2010 Oliver Ready

  From the Reviews:
  • "This novel is full of scenes of hard physical labour; none is so impressive, nor leaves the reader with the same sense of exhausted admiration, as Schwartz's act of translation. (...) Much of 2017 requires a strong stomach: this is not for the metaphor-intolerant. Some passages, however, attain an extraordinary majesty." - Alex Preston, Literary Review

  • "Fantasy elements, like the disappearances related to a mountain spirit known as the Stone Maiden, may remind some of The Master and Margarita, but American readers should be prepared for a futuristic fable that falls far short of Bulgakovís masterpiece." - Publishers Weekly

  • "The strongest passages in 2017 preserve the qualities of Slavnikova's earlier work while transposing them to the more marketable type of fiction -- filled with local lore, criminal intrigue and dramatic landscapes -- to which Russian writers have recently been gravitating in search of lost readers. (...) As a thriller, 2017 is not especially thrilling, but it repays reading for its stilled scenes based on repetition rather than progress, where movement occurs at the level of poetry rather than action." - Oliver Ready, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       2017 is set (at least in part) in the year of the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, but the futuristic and dystopian side to the novel is largely indirectly conveyed. Part of the action builds up to the celebrations of the anniversary, and things do go dreadfully wrong -- "Red Cavalry helmets and White Guard epaulets are going to be firing on each other everywhere, because of the anniversary, and it's going to end in excess everywhere", the main character recognizes, in the re-enactment of the past so many fall back on for want of anything to look forward to (and which does, indeed, get out of hand) -- but it's only one more hallucinatory symptom of the seemingly terminal Russian condition.
       Slavnikova repeatedly invokes the hallucinatory: life is not a dream here, but this world is suffused with a mythic-spiritual quality. The central character is Krylov, and much of the novel set in Riphean territory where the mountains are so stunning that: "There's nothing left for a painter to do amid this ready-made lithic beauty." (Indeed, the (physical and political) world Slavnikova presents has little role for the artist any longer: as one novelist complains: "The flow of information washes away everything that might have meaning.") This is gem-territory, and like many in the region Krylov is drawn, from an early age on, to the mysterious precious stones: "the names of world-class diamonds were as much music to him as the names of world capitals are to romantics of another bent. Famous stones were the heroes of adventures on a par with D'Artagnon, Captain Nemo, and Leatherstocking." A solid find is enough to finance at least a year of university, and there he comes to the attention of Professor Anfilogov in the history department.
       Anfilogov sees the young man's potential and becomes Krylov's mentor, getting him a position in a gem-cutting workshop where Krylov's talents soon flourish. Anfilogov also has great precious-stone-finding ambitions, and takes Krylov with him on some expeditions.
       There are also two women in Krylov's life. There's his ex-wife, Tamara, a successful businesswoman dealing in death (or rather what is to be done with the dead, as she runs an ambitious funeral-home-type business called Granite). Though divorced, Tamara isn't quite able to let go, and Krylov still plays an important part in her life; he, on the other hand, seems to wish he weren't still so closely tied to her. Meanwhile, he has also begun a torrid affair with a woman he knows only as 'Tanya' (and who knows him only as 'Ivan'), and while she reveals that she is married she won't tell him where she lives or anything of that sort, cloaking her identity as best she can (for what does seem a rather good reason).
       Though in a sense action-packed, 2017 does move at a sort of dreamy pace. While some of the gem-expeditions are quite exciting, most of the novel progresses fairly slowly. Tension is heightened by the pervasive sense of mystery, with, for example, Krylov finding that there's a spy following him (and taking ages to figure out who wants him spied on, and why). There's also that hallucinatory feel to the book, with scenes that float just slightly beyond reality; for example, Krylov obtains an apartment whose existence is unknown (and apparently more or less unknowable) to anyone else: "Krylov had locked up fifty square meters forever and taken them out of reality's jurisdiction." Uncertainty is pervasive, even on the largest scale: "The date of the October coup was fast approaching, and something was afoot in the country" -- but all the somethings afoot in the book retain at least some air of mystery.
       What Slavnikova describes is a world where, as Tamara says:

Humanism has collapsed. It's not even an idol; it's last year's snowman. There will never be any humanism again. But let's assume we do manage to feed the hungry and by some miracle don't get burned. What are these full bellies and shod feet going to do with themselves, existing in the form of albuminous bodies for a hundred and fifty years apiece ? Have you considered how much about human beings is human ? Twenty years ago, there was a devaluation of all creative achievements. Are we supposed to start liking poetry again ?
       Slavnikova's style -- rich, mystical, sometimes almost incantatory -- is also striking; it lends the narrative a measured steadiness, but can also be, at times, a slog. This isn't clear, precise realist fiction, instead 2017 is deliberately hazy. It is effective, and certainly makes for a reading experience that has a different feel to it; it does also require some patience.
       2017 is an odd piece of work, but it has its rewards.

- M.A.Orthofer, 2 May 2010

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2017: Reviews: Olga Slavnikova: Other books by Olga Slavnikova under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of literature from Russia

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About the Author:

       Russian author Olga Slavnikova (Ольга Славникова) was born in 1957.

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