Briefly: they are two short stories, after all. Well, a novella and a short story. But why quibble? My quibble is with the publisher, and this bugs the hell out of me, as prior to this one I’ve loved the New Directions Pearls series. More on that to follow.Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Crocodile: An Extraordinary Incident is a satire, and as such, perhaps, should not (cannot) be expected to attain the status of the author’s better known, canonical works.
A low-level Russian bureaucrat in the 1860s (?) visits an arcade with his wife and friend to see a travelling exhibit containing the first crocodile to be brought to Russia, whereupon he is consumed by said crocodile, and from which, he issues directives to his friend about his plans for the future, the comfort of the croc’s insides, and the ‘principles of economics’ which are at play. By the time the novella’s finished, the friend’s real affections are discovered, newspaper reports are confused, and the wife…well, I’m not one for spoilers.
Constance Garnet’s translation sounds exactly like what one might expect from someone who’d stopped translating in the 1920s: stilted, archaic. Her heart was in the right place, but her dictionaries and thesauri were someplace else. By the time story ended, I was seeing it black and white and expecting an appearance by Rod Serling. Those who think Bulgakov is funny (it has that feel) will likely appreciate this more than I did.
Felisberto Hernández’s The Crocodile was more to my liking. A traveling salesman of women’s hosiery/pianist discovers that shedding crocodile tears at the drop of a hat can lead to success. Aira-like. Nice, enough. But…
New Directions, it seems to me, blew it on this Pearls volume. A dated translation of Dostoyevsky and the lack of copy editing on the Hernández story were disappointing. It may be an inexpensive way to publish something, but really, “That year, I starting weeping in the west…” Really? Disappointing, made more so by learning that the next volume in the Pearls series is by Bulgakov. Morphine. I’ll read it, but expectations aren’t great. With some luck, they’ll use a contemporary translation and spring for an editor. We’ll see.