Russian reviewer noted that Oleg Pavlov’s Asystole was
teaching readers not to speed-read. It is a complex,
stream-of-consciousness narrative of the “seeing” of a dying man, a
talented artist whose career has been wrecked. With the arrival of
the New Russian way of doing business, his studio and its entire
contents are swept away by developers. His beady artist’s eye causes
many problems with the love of his life, who finds his drawings of
her pornographic, and a possessive widowed mother adds to his
problems. As Russian democracy is battered by Yeltsin’s tanks he
gives shelter to a protester, who goes on to greater things as the
hero succumbs to chronic depression.
Pavlov’s writing is dense with poetic imagery. An unusual novel we
think you will enjoy.
Excerpts from Asystole
“Mummy, where’s Daddy?”
Enormous eyes. Neither pity nor fear. She takes him by the hand and
leads him away to a small room. Muffled sounds. No one will hear.
She whispers as hard as she can, “Daddy is not here any more. He has
died.” At the moment he heard that he wanted to smile. He wanted his
mummy to go back to being kind again, but she squeezed his hand
painfully and said, “Remember, Daddy loved you very, very much!” Her
invincible face was suddenly broken by a twitching, purple grimace.
It looked old and flabby, and she frowned, terribly wounded by
everything in the world. A visceral groan through her teeth before,
a moment later, she put on a proud look and said in a clear, calm,
but trembling voice, “Now we need to go and look after our guests.”
She inspects his drawing as if it is of someone else. Not her, but
his secret. The excitement of jealousy is dispelled by the
neutrality of recognition. She seems to be looking in a distorting
mirror, but the other face fills with distaste and hardens like the
mask of an African idol. She is offended, and offensive in
retaliation: I don’t look like that. It’s like pornography. It’s
disgusting. She tries nevertheless to extract an acknowledgement, to
catch him out. Do I look like that? And then, in retaliation, “You
don’t love me.”
Leaving his belongings, he went for a final walk, suddenly finding
an abyss behind the little museum. It was an abyss into which the
lake, the forest, and the sky had capsized. Everything was naked and
hungry, which it had not been even a week before when he last stood
here. Now, he saw himself above a precipice which had swallowed
everything, even time itself, and was still hungry. The wind was
howling down there, black water shimmering, but it was too late. It
had been painful to tear himself away. He could only store it in his
memory. He felt he had never seen anything like it. He wanted to
come back the next year; he had been looking forward to it, but
something had got in the way. After that they were short of money,
and after that he forgot all about it.
November. Just one day, even one hour, when this had been visible.
Yesterday it had been too late to go there, but here it was, so
near. Without saying anything, he invited Sasha to come for a walk
with him, and they slowly headed in that direction. At the very spot
where he had stood, afraid of toppling, of falling down under the
foundations of the museum, they found, sitting in front of her easel
on a folding seat, Antonina. She thought they had come to see her,
to look at her work, and asked hesitantly, “What do you think?” He
saw flatness, but not on the canvas, right in front of him. Pretty
clouds, flowers, greenery. Drapery. Instead of a vase there was a
lake. It was feather-brained. She had a vacuum flask of tea to hand.