THE CONCERT TICKET by Olga Grushin Viking Pounds 18.99 322pp Pounds 17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
Olga Grushin has a gift for conveying Russian imagination. Her first novel, The Dream Life of Sukhanov, wowed readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Her characters dream, daydream, yearn, hallucinate like Russian 20th-century poets. They see colours and forms - Sukhanov was an art critic - and here in The Concert Ticket they long for music.
Grey Soviet Russian life both needed and enabled a transformative poetry. The daughter of an emigre family, Grushin uses magical imagery to evoke that old Russian life of the heart into which she was born.
People are queueing for something; no one knows quite what. The never entirely rational queue which was a feature of Soviet life here excites visions in all the characters who join it. When the kiosk with a closed window actually offers tickets to a concert by a great Russian composer who fled the Revolution, the lives of half-a- dozen hopefuls become closely entwined.
At their centre are Anna, a schoolteacher, her musician husband Sergei, and their 16-year-old son Alexander. Anna wants to breathe new life into her stalled marriage. But her mother, who lives with them and hasn't spoken for years, also wants to go to the concert, so her welfare becomes Anna's goal. Sergei, a violin prodigy as a child, forced to adopt the tuba, longs to be in the presence of great music rather than the state-imposed repertoire. Alexander fantasises about following the great emigre composer's example and leaving the country.
The queue lasts a year and when it ends the characters have learned to live with themselves, and each other, afresh. The portrait of a whole society in pain makes this novel a more demanding experience than Grushin's first. …