Voices from the Void: The Genres of Liudmila Petrushevskaia

By Peterson, Kristin | Canadian Slavonic Papers, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Voices from the Void: The Genres of Liudmila Petrushevskaia


Peterson, Kristin, Canadian Slavonic Papers


Sally Dalton-Brown. Voices from the Void: -The Genres of Liudmila Petrushevskaia. Studies in Slavic Literatures, Culture and Society. Volume 7. General Editor: Thomas Epstein. New York: Berghahn Books, 2000. 214 pp. Bibliography. Index. $35.00, cloth.

The subject of this book is an analysis of Liudmila Stefanovna Petrushevskaia's manipulation of genres. Dalton-Brown demonstrates that through her use of hybrid genres, Petrushevskaia is able to "generate textual absence, and readerly disappointment as the basis for her themes of absence, death and loss" (p. viii). Dalton-Brown's insightful analysis centers upon the themes of broken communication and the narrators' struggle to find their own voices. She writes, "Petrushevskaia's characters are all storytellers, modern-day bards, prosaic Homeric writers of their own lives; her texts focus on the voice of direct experience, in which the craftsmanship lies in creating a sense of its own absence, as if these are ordinary tales told by those without writerly skills" (p. vii).

The introduction, "Petrushevskaia and Contemporary Literary Trends," provides the reader with a brief personal and literary biography of the author and a quick survey of Russian and Western criticism on her works. Specific emphasis is placed on Petrushevskaia's unique place within the contemporary Russian cultural scene as well as Petrushevskaia's contribution to the development of new literary trends. DaltonBrown argues that although the main focus of Petrushevskaia's works seems to center on the idea of "finding a voice," Petrushevskaia offers "no easy answers-no answers at all to the question of how one communicates" (p. 13). Dalton-Brown continues, "What she focuses on repeatedly is the problem of being heard..." (p. 13).

The main focus of Dalton-Brown's work is Petrushevskaia's unique use of hybrid genres to render her "songs silent, her monologues multivoiced, her tales of the fantastic grimly real, her dramas farcically bathetic, her romantic histories small tales of loneliness, her poetry prosaic, and many of her skazki grimly realistic" (p. 15). The book is divided into six large chapters: "Contemporary 'histories"'; "Monologues and Requiems"; "Songs, Sluchai, Tales of the Fantastic/Dystopias, Prose Poetry"; "Skazki"; "Drama"; and "Style." Petrushevskaia's two main genres, as Dalton-Brown asserts, are those of prose and drama. Within the first, Dalton-Brown identifies seven others: contemporary histories, monologues, requiems, songs, sluchai, tales of the fantastic and prose poetry. At first glance the division into chapters that focus on each of the nine genres that Petrushevskaia employs seems logical. However, one can not help but question whether or not this undermines the stated aim of the study, to re-examine Petrushevskia's work "on how genre conventions can be transcended in an ever more inward-looking, even 'Dostoevskiian' search for the voices which come from out of the void within which her characters are so often placed" (p.

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