Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I always liked Gogol, but wow, the Russian 19th century writers really catch the subtleties of society and the underclass like nobody else I have read. Gogol is no exception. His stories showcase the life of underpaid bureaucrats and working stiffs getting screwed by the system, show the slow decline into madness, and the utter spite and desire to wield power of the upper class.
Despite reading quite a lot of the major authors of the day, I am not sure why writers like Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and later Bulgakov were so adept at depicting the eccentricity of life. Perhaps its because Russia was a massively changing society with a fierce repressive apparatus and a heavily politicized cultural and artistic society. You can see how Gogol weaves criticism while staying a little bit beneath the careful eyes of the censors.
I think of all the stories in this compendium, the overcoat really hit my soul the most, because a poor man that meant completely well just was utterly fucked by a combination of fairly normal people trying to act important and leaving this worker to just fall through the cracks. Its a masterpiece of build up and subtlety, and you can totally see how it influence later stories like A Christmas Carol. Dostoyevsky later remarked "We have all come from under the overcoat"....and I agree. If anything, this just makes me want to read more of Gogol.
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