When the corpse of a general is found dangling from the ropes of a large advertising balloon, it sets of a chain of events that are at one and the same time bizarre and completely believable. A confusion and profusion of police and security officials from Russia and Ukraine chase each other’s tails through Europe; a tortoise is rescued; and some, at least, find a semblance of happiness.
In a plot that could have been a straight and highly plausible thriller, we are introduced to a cast of characters who make the best of the situation in which they find themselves. They are a bit closer to reality than some of Kurkov’s other books, although it is often hard to tell when the whole world is mad whether individuals are themselves unusual or just reacting to the unusual world around them.
The writing, as ever, is tight and evocative. We are constantly treated to scenes deftly described with a few phrases, dialogue that is believable, and a growing sense of tension. And, as with all the best thrillers, our expectations are overturned.
I know the slightly surreal take on life that Kurkov has is not to everyone’s taste, but it has to be admitted it is perfectly suited to his subject matter. I relish his work – not just for the subject matter and his view of the world, but also because he produces literary work without literary affectations and pretensions.