'Death And The Penguin' by Andrey Kurkov

Tuesday 18 February 2014

What may seem absurd to you and me maybe completely normal to someone else. In Andrey Kurkov's Death And The Penguin there is no room to question the absurd, it is just accepted and as readers we accept it too.

Viktor - a writer who lacks the ability for longevity and sensation previously acquired his penguin Misha when Kiev zoo were no longer able to support them. This is the first little oddity of many we come to accept as readers. The pair are soon swept into a world of political and media corruption yet we are kept to a tiny window of it, on the cusp of everything.

This cusp begins in the form of a unique job offer as an obituarist. A well paid one, all prepared greatly in advance. Yet the burden of such a morose job is the lack of recognition and promise that your work could go unpublished for years to come. With Viktor dwelling on this there are a slew of published obituaries and with that what seemed a simplistic but absurd narrative fell into a surreal novel, edging on a thriller. Death And The Penguin only edges because what it does beautifully is accept everything. Something that mirrors what maybe surreal to us but the norm in a post soviet Ukraine. As long as Viktor is getting paid and still receiving work that is all that matters until the problems face him straight on. And Kurkov's writing means that funnily enough we don't seems to question it past reading the page consciously. He has pulled us into that mindset so flawlessly that nothing is absurd but perfectly normal.

This continues through Viktor's acceptance of the leaving of an illusive vistors daughter - Sonya. Rather than question Viktor just accepts Sonya, the mind set of the novel, reflecting an absurd but deadpan style. Death And The Penguin is unlike anything i've ever read before and probably sounds like it shouldn't work and doesn't work but it does and that is why it is perfect.

I do not want to summarise the novel, you should find everything out for yourself but I promise it is not as nonchalant as it seems. Things get darker, the absurd seems frighteningly real and in the midst of an unstable and corrupt state Kurkov is revealing that maybe we should be striving past perseverance and acceptation even if it means you pet becomes your calling card.

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