I guess like others here, my first thought was not as good as...that's the trouble with creating a perfect work of art, one is haunted by it forever.
May I say this is 'not as good' but still SO, SO very good, that we are talking about giving this nine stars out of five, where we might have given Sukhanov ten.
Maybe the very big difference, the thing that makes one intuitively side with Sukhanov is that this novel has no one great character, rather, a group share centre stage equally. If you ask me, this just goes to show Grushin can do both of these constructions equally well. I think I was greedy to sink myself into a big character, the way one is greedy in one's younger years to be immersed in the enormity of The Russian Novel. The longer the better. The bigger the better. But you grow up and the finesse with which Grushin manages the five or so main characters of this book is a treat to behold. She is such a skilled craftsman, both in use of language and structure without ever losing sight of the story and the characters: you CAN have all of this, the idea that technique is something we have now in modern literature instead of story and character is shown by this writer to be ludicrous.
It is odd to reflect that the essential qualities of Russian life, the ones that maintain a whole genre, The Russian Novel, are drabness, meanness, futility. Odd too that the genre requires they be invoked with both moving sensibility and the blackness of absurdism. As in her first novel, this is again achieved with consumate grace and skill. Again it is hard to put this down for even a moment. Remembering how I read this: on a 24 hour plane trip and then finishing it in a hotel bathroom at 3am, unable to sleep for the second night in a row, makes me even less certain of agreeing that it is – however slightly – less than her first novel. Despite the fact that I read it in invidious circumstances I hung on every word.
Bravo Grushin. Again.