I must confess that my thoughts have been somewhat on the subject of Bulgakov recently, particularly since vexing myself with the subject of translators towards the end of last year! This has been somewhat exacerbated by Sky Arts showing the four-part “A Young Doctor’s Notebook” and also the 2005 Russian TV version of “The Master and Margarita”.
I watched “Young Doctor” with some trepidation (and having to look away at the gory bits) – and was in the end a little disappointed. John Hamm as the older doctor and Daniel Radcliffe as the younger both acted wonderfully – Hamm in particular seem to catch the essence of Bulgakov well – and there was plenty of rapid fire slapstick of the sort which features in his books. But in the end, the story didn’t really go anywhere and I think this was because the writers took a collection of short stories and attempted to turn it into something more than it was.
However, the Russian “Master and Margarita” is still showing, an episode at a time, and we are up to part 6. I was skeptical at first but I am absolutely *loving* it! The Russian cast are just magnificent – I’m particularly fond of Faggot/Koroviev – and the makers seem to have got things spot on. The period detail is incredible (mixing in real archive footage sometimes), the acting is excellent, and what pleases me most is the pacing. In a feature film or normal adaptation so much would be lost – but here it seems to me that apart from a few minor exclusions everything is in place and the story is being allowed to develop every week. We are allowed to linger on the thoughts and actions of the characters and the quirky events as they unfold without ever being rushed into the next event. Frankly, I *adore* it – it’s the highlight of my week at the moment! As soon as I get up to date with my reading, I shall be picking up the Hugh Aplin translation and setting off for a revisit!
In the meantime, I have rather set myself off on tracking down Bulgakov obscurities as I have, and have read, all of the main works. This search led me to discover that Glas had put a volume of combined Bulgakov and Mandelstam rarities – so I sent off for a copy which arrived last week.
And it is a little treasure. For a start, there are loads of lovely pictures of Bulgakov which I hadn’t seen before, plus extracts from diaries kept by his third wife, Yelena Bulgakova. These contain some very funny sketches that she wrote down as Bulgakov spun the tales. The main content of the Bulgakov section, however, is a piece called “To A Secret Friend”, which is apparently an early version of “Black Snow”and tells of how the writer came to work on newspapers re-writing others’ work and then producing satirical sketches. It’s funny and typically Bulgakovian in its flights of fancy, its wordplay and its humour and pretty essential for any lover of the man’s work.
So I’ve now also sent for “Notes on the Cuff” which I think will then mean I have everything that’s been translated into English. It’s at times like these, when I’m labouring under an obsession with a writer whose language is not my own, that I wish I was a better linguist!