I’d been wanting to read The Master and Margarita for a long time but had always felt too intimidated to pick it up. I expect there are probably other people who feel the same, so I want to reassure you that there’s really no need to be scared! Yes, it’s Russian literature, but it’s a lot easier to read and understand than I thought it would be. After just a couple of pages I could tell I was going to love it – isn’t it great when that happens?
It’s best if you know as little as possible before you begin, so to put it as simply as I can, The Master and Margarita imagines that the devil, in the guise of Professor Woland, arrives in Soviet Moscow and proceeds to wreak havoc on the city’s literary world. Woland is accompanied by a retinue of memorable characters including his assistant, Koroviev – a tall, skinny man in a jockey’s cap and broken pince-nez glasses – and a giant, talking black cat known as Behemoth. This storyline is interwoven with the story of Pontius Pilate, giving us an insight into Pilate’s thoughts and feelings in the period leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. A third thread of the novel, closely connected to the other two, features a romance between the writer of the Pontius Pilate story, a mysterious man who is referred to only as ‘The Master’, and his lover, Margarita.
This was a fantastic book – it was breathtakingly different and original, with so many different layers to it. There were some scenes that were so surreal and bizarre I had to read them twice to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood. I’m sorry I can’t give any examples of what I mean, but I don’t want to spoil any of the fun for you! Admittedly there were a few parts of the book where the story seemed to lose its way for a while, but the engaging writing, weird and wonderful characters and the dark humour all helped to keep me interested. There were some excellent set pieces too: the séance in the theatre, Margarita’s moonlight flight, the Great Ball at Satan’s, to name just a few that have stuck in my mind.
A quick note on the translation: the version I read was the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation which, as far as I can tell from reading other reviews, may not be the best one. Personally I didn’t have any complaints about this translation, though obviously I can’t compare it with the others because I haven’t read them.
This is a book that I would definitely like to read again in the future; I might not find it as stunning the second time round but I’m sure I’ll be able to pick up on lots of little details that I missed the first time. I hope I’ve convinced you to give it a try too!