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the Complete Review
the complete review - literature


The Hamburg Score

Viktor Shklovsky

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To purchase The Hamburg Score

Title: The Hamburg Score
Author: Viktor Shklovsky
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 1928 (Eng. 2017)
Length: 267 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: The Hamburg Score - US
The Hamburg Score - UK
The Hamburg Score - Canada
Il punteggio di Amburgo - Italia
  • Russian title: Гамбургский счёт
  • Translated and with an introduction by Shushan Avagyan

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Our Assessment:

B : the usual intriguing Shklovskian mix

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Publishers Weekly . 19/12/2016 .
TLS . 26/5/2017 Anna Aslanyan

  From the Reviews:
  • "Only the savviest readers of Russian literature, however, will be able to authoritatively judge his sophisticated literary criticism. Thankfully, Shklovsky is an eclectic writer and some pieces are more broadly accessible, including some general criticism and well-observed memoir." - Publishers Weekly

  • "(H)is own writing comes alive in Shushan Avagyanís version, which preserves the rhythm of the text without losing its essential style. (...) Shklovsky the critic is in his element when analysing Russian prose and poetry in the light of their European analogues and new media." - Anna Aslanyan, 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:

       In his short Preface, Viktor Shklovsky explains what the 'Hamburg Score' of the title is. Even back then, show-wrestling matches were fixed, but Shklovsky claims that once a year wrestlers would gather at a Hamburg pub and have it out behind closed doors, too see who was truly the best, when they fought the way you were actually meant to fight, not choreographed. Shklovsky maintains: "We need a Hamburg score in literature" -- and suggests:

     In Hamburg, Bulgakov is down on the mat.
     Babel is a lightweight.
     Gorky is questionable (often oiut of form).
     Khlebnikov was the champion.
       Like many of Shklovsky's books, The Hamburg Score can feel like a grab-bag. The book is, in many ways, a product of its times, and for Shklovsky the 1920s were a time when: "No one needs thick novels or epic canvases now". The assortment of short pieces ranges from the analytical and exhortative to personal reminiscences -- but is very much a mix of pieces. As he explains (and warns):
     The idea of the cohesion of a literary work is replaced with the sensation of the value of a separate piece. I am more interested in the contradictions than in the cohesion of the pieces.
       Shklovsky writes from a personal perspective -- his opinions, his experiences -- as almost everything is written in the first person. Yet he argues
I do not feel guilty for always writing in the first person, especially when it is obvious from what I have just written that, while I write in first person, I don't write about myself.
     Besides, Viktor Shklovsky about whom I am writing is apparently not quite me, and had we met and started up a conversation, we might even have some misunderstandings.
       Shklovsky's focus is largely on literature and cinema, both of which he was involved in. The early Soviet period was a fertile time of experimentation, and Shklovsy weighs in on many of the major creative actors of the times and their work, from the films of Eisenstein to lesser-known authors or institutions such as the Factory of the Eccentric Actor (where he notes with regret: "We can't have Eccentricism yet").
       Shklovsky is succinct, and a sharp observer. He has read incredibly widely and writes comfortably about authors across the political spectrums -- and captures a great deal in single sentences or a mere paragraph, as when he summarizes:
     Bunin's entire work is italicized. The descriptions are derived not from objects but from other descriptions. The landscape, in general, is a literary concept. It appeared and is experienced through tradition.
       The work bubbles over with clever observations and thoughts, though Shklovsky remains constantly in motion, rarely sticking to one idea or issue. He writes at greater length on Isaac Babel -- but begins with the nice idea that:
One should respect a writer's success and give a reader time to like an author without yet finding out about his success.
       He writes about how, despite much fine film-making: "Soviet comedy is unsuccessful" (the biggest hurdle being that all the committees it must pass through for approval). He suggests: "We need dictionaries of concepts, not dictionaries of words". And he helpfully reminds us that:
If facts are destroying the theory, then that's best for the theory.
       The Hamburg Score offers a glimpse of a fascinating mind at work. It can feel unfocussed, and too far-ranging, but there's a great deal that is of interest here, and much that still applies beyond the times and circumstances he was writing from. Much is theoretical, but he grounds most of it in the more tangible, and while many of the references are likely to be unknown to contemporary readers, the general sense comes across.
       Invigorating if occasionally frustrating reading, The Hamburg Score is still well worth the effort.

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 January 2017

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The Hamburg Score: Reviews: Viktor Shklovsky: Other books by Viktor Shklovsky under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Viktor Shklovsky (Виктор Борисович Шкловский, Victor Chklovski, Viktor Sklovskij) (1893-1984) was a leading Russian Formalist.

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© 2017 the complete review

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