Tatyana Shcherbina - life is a masquerade and its participants are characters from classic world literature racing towards destination unknown. The question they all are asking is whether the traditional notion of time's flow from the past to the future is the correct one
Tatyana Shcherbina, Multiple Personalities, Glagoslav Publications , 2015.
Having spent years in a coma, a female protagonist is anxious to lead a normal life. Her miraculous recovery is riddled with falling in and out of our time continuum - she wanders through history in her imagination as if it were her backyard. Notwithstanding her condition, her peers are going through a real change of their own echoing events that engulfed Russia in the past few decades. In Multiple Personalities, life is a masquerade and its participants are characters from classic world literature racing towards destination unknown. The question they all are asking is whether the traditional notion of time's flow from the past to the future is the correct one. Who has the answer?
Author Tatyana Shcherbina is known in Russia for her poetry and prose, as well as numerous essays and translations from French. Her early works had been self-published in the USSR to avoid censorship, and it was only in the new Russia that she gained public recognition. She recieved various literary awards and is considered one of Russia's most celebrated female writers.
At a time when it feels impossible to do anything new in literature, when everything seems cliched and every subject has already been written about, Tatyana Shcherbina has managed to create a completely original work, an intelligent and powerful novel about madness, contemporary politics and the presence of the “other” within ourselves.
One of the heroines of Shcherbina’s novel, Roza, has spent many years in a lethargic stupor and appears to inhabit a number of epochs — from ancient times to the Middle Ages and the last years of the Soviet Union. The other main characters in the novel undergo metamorphoses in their waking hours that are even more surprising.
Shcherbina places major literary figures and themes in a present-day context. Pushkin appears in 2006 in Moscow, presidents take the form of Shakespearean characters, while Laertes is poisoned with polonium.
The influence of Beckett and Kafka are clear in the novel. Senseless dreams suddenly break through the narrative, through the conflicts and details of everyday life. There is the feeling of inhabiting an endless dream from which there is no exit, and it lends the scattered plots a global, even universal meaning. - eng.nlobooks.ru/node/121
Multiple Personalities is, for the most part, nominally narrated by Tanya. It begins with her recounting a "persistent fantasy": finding Pushkin, just before his wedding, transported to 2006 -- where she recognizes him and takes him home with her. This sort of transposition in time recurs throughout the novel, in more and less fantastical variations; complicating matters, too, identities are often in flux: people forget who they are, or are transformed, in name and in person: true to its title, Multiple Personalities includes numerous variations on multiple personalities .....
Explanations abound: a character introduced as Iris admits that's not her real name:
I got it when I was seven. Iris means Not-Rosa. That's why they called me that -- in order to pull up Rosa's roots and plant Iris in her place. There were other options: Lily, Daisy.
Another character is called Sylvaine Personne, her first name itself an acronym, containing her multiple personalities (even as her second name suggests the complete absence of identity). It's hardly surprising that one of the authors invoked is the Fernando Pessoa, the man of so many heteronyms -- or, as one person puts it: "The poet was like the earth, inhabited by different peoples, some in contact with one other, others believing they were alone in the world".
As the character(s) note, the classical unities of place and action are generally seen as a given -- yet: "Unity of person wasn't even discussed". In her novel, Shcherbina certainly puts it in play -- along with strongly challenging any concept of unity of action.
We're told (well, someone says): "Tanya now, she's real" -- but layering in others' stories and perspectives distances the reader from her, the original narrator. And the other characters aren't as firmly grounded: "Iris has been left here from the future", for example.
Beyond even the circles of female friends and acquaintances and their stories -- from Tanya to Rosa to Iris (the latter two also confused for one another) -- the novel takes bigger detours too: no less than a fifth of the novel, thirty-five pages, consists of a variation on Hamlet. Another longer section pits the Right and Left Hemispheres of one of the character's minds against each other with a dialogue between them (that eventually brings them together).
Russian history, and especially contemporary history, is central to the novel too, beginning with Pushkin finding himself in a modern Russia that he first takes to be Hell, and which he can't adapt to. Even the Hamlet-variation is strongly colored by contemporary Russian conditions, moving through recent times. And Multiple Personalities isn't just of the present but also of the future -- where the penultimate chapter, set in 2030, offers some explanations for what has been presented so far, and the questions of identity that have plagued the various characters. But even after this, Shcherbina offers yet another nice twist in her concluding chapter.
It makes for a web of not entirely neatly intertwining stories: by toying with unities of person and time Shcherbina adds more dimensions to her narrative than readers are generally confronted with, the story shifting with the changing perspectives of its chapters, the fit between them not always clear.
It is also a novel of the Russian condition in its descriptions of the characters' everyday experiences -- even in the dramatized form of the alternate-Hamlet. There are several cases of a sort of somnolence -- a deep and often prolonged sleep -- that fits the burred vision of events; dreams -- or what seem like dreams -- are also significant. Indeed, reality -- like identity -- seems elsewhere, or at least hard to grasp. As one person explains:
All that is manifest is false and organized so that no-one is able to see real life and thereby encroach upon it or disturb anything in it.
Which turns out to be very accurate. And is certainly one way of describing the unreality of contemporary Russia.
Slightly dreamy, and certainly convoluted, Multiple Personalities is an intriguing take on modern Russia and the individual in it, with several inspired episodes (including both the opening and the final two chapters). - M.A.Orthofer