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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

There Once Lived
a Girl who Seduced
Her Sister's Husband,
and He Hanged Himself

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

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To purchase There Once Lived a Girl who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself

Title: There Once Lived a Girl [...]
Author: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Genre: Stories
Written: (Eng. 2013)
Length: 178 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: There Once Lived a Girl [...] - US
There Once Lived a Girl [...] - UK
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There Once Lived a Girl [...] - India
  • Love Stories
  • These stories originally published between 1972 and 2008
  • Translated and with an Introduction by Anna Summers

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Our Assessment:

B : fine short stories of entire lives and fates

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 15/2/2013 Elissa Schappell
Publishers Weekly . 12/11/2013 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "They are deeply unromantic love stories told frankly, with an elasticity and economy of language. The characters are often pathetic, incomprehensible. Doctor Zhivago this ainít." - Elissa Schappell, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Full of meaningful, finely crafted detail, this story collection set in Russia manages to tackle the grimmest of situations head-on with compassion and a great deal of warmth" - Publishers Weekly

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:

       There Once Lived a Girl who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself collects seventeen stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya spanning practically her entire career, from her first published story (in 1972) to one from a 2008 collection. Translator Anna Summers offers a helpful Introduction, which also explains how the stories have been presented, loosely grouped into four shared themes, such as 'parents struggling to raise children without murdering each other'.
       These stories are almost entirely domestic, and although Petrushevskaya's life and experience is dominated by the Soviet experience -- she was past fifty when the Soviet Union collapsed -- it is noteworthy how little the prevailing political systems shows in the stories: what Petrushevskaya describes can almost equally well be situated in Soviet or 'modern' Russian times.
       Focused generally on female protagonists, Petrushevskaya's generally very short tales sum up entire lives and fates in a few pages, with young women trapped early on in their lives in situations that leave limited opportunities and hope.
       As Summers notes in her Introduction, cramped living spaces and the near impossibility of finding some personal space, especially for intimate encounters, is a common and constant problem. The presence of other family members remains a hurdle to happiness -- most obviously (though hardly only) in the case of a character in 'The Goddess Parka':

Her few admirers had been shooed off by the old witch, who had been correct: where would the newlyweds sleep -- under mama's bed ?
       In 'Hallelujah, Family !' Victor signs a three-contract to work at some distant industrial site simply in the hope that the women he'd gotten entangled with would forget him -- a sort of sabbatical that he considers: "a temporary suicide" -- but at his new job he finds himself forced to share a room with newlyweds and privy to the whole cycle from conception to the birth of their child. Escape from the suffocatingly domestic proves impossible, he finds, even when he returns home.
       Petrushevskaya neatly summarizes these lives in her short stories, which often cover so much ground in their few pages. It's often melancholy stuff, as her protagonists rarely stand out in any way. Even their attempts at reinvention or escape are often clumsy and rarely anywhere near successful; typical is the young woman who is now a:
penniless college student. She has broken out of her schoolgirl shell, literally so -- she managed to make a new skirt out of her old school uniform. The skirt came out messy, crooked, and off-center, but that's the end of the uniform, anyway.
       Petrushevskaya has an appealing way of presenting these tales, and despite how short they are they feel quite rich. But, if not downright dreary, the pervasive near-oppressive melancholy weighs the collection down quite a bit.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 March 2013

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There Once Lived a Girl who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of literature from Russia

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About the Author:

       Russian author Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Людмила Стефановна Петрушевская) was born in 1938.

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© 2013-2022 the complete review

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