Review: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

What can I say, I am a sucker for books with compelling titles and let’s be honest….tell me you didn’t see this title and you weren’t the slightest bit curious? When I was approached by Penguin to review this book, how could I say no….especially with Valentines Day around the corner.

Besides the title of this book, the cover also attracted my eye, and then I started reading the description, honestly I would have reviewed the book based on title alone, but the description sealed the deal….Poe meets Tolstoy? Who can say no to that!

In this collection of short stories Petrushevskaya explores the darker side of love. Many of the stories are about characters that are less than savory….alcoholics, derelicts, adulterers, and the oppressed. Clearly all of them are a far cry from a happy ending.

But yet Petrushevskaya brings a ‘happily ever after’ to all of her stories. Though it is not the same HEA that we have in more traditional fairy tale romances, but it’s the best HEA that these characters can hope for.

What Petrushevskaya brings to these love stories is reality. Love isn’t always flower, romance, and sugary sweet declarations of love and devotion, sometimes love is complicated and messy.

One of my favorite stories in the collection was A Murky Fate. A young unmarried woman is so desperate for a night of love making that she takes home her married, older, and rather fat co-worker for a night of fun. When the encounter is over she returns to work and never really sees him again but she is able to tell her co-workers that she is ‘seeing someone’ and the recognition she gains for this new ‘title’ is so satisfying and fills her with happiness.

Ultimately it’s not the man she falls in love with but the idea of love and the idea of having someone. In Russia it seems as though marriage is the defining moment of a woman’s life….to not be married by thirty is unthinkable.

Many of the stories follow this same concept. Another one of my favorite stories was Give Her To Me. A composer falls in love with a theater student and has an affair with her. When she gets pregnant he leaves his wife for her and they write a musical and sell it to a theater company. When she gives birth to their baby nothing matters but that little baby and when the story ends, the reader feels that even though her life was dismal, there was still hope for something better with the baby.

I love books that go against the grain and challenge tradition and this book did just that. I loved that each of these stories were based on real life events….that took the collection to a whole other level for me. It made them more personal and relatable for me as a reader knowing that. Each story contained realistic tenderness mixed with romantic illusion.

The only thing I wished for in this book was that it was longer. I loved that the stories were short and sweet but sometimes I thought they ended abruptly and I was left wanting to know more about the characters and what happened next. I also wanted to keep reading more!

In many ways Petrushevskaya reminded me of a cross between Edgar Alan Poe and Leo Tolstoy… Tolstoy, Petrushevskaya wrote about the conditions of the Russian people. She made sure the reader was aware of the living conditions and the politics of the era and region. It wasn’t just a collection of stories about love, but about the human condition and socioeconomic climate of Russia. And she writes with the dark, raw, gritty reality of Poe. An erotic and alluring combination.

She stripped off the rose colored glasses and showed us what love really is sometimes and yet underneath all the grit and darkness there is beauty to be appreciated in each story. Petrushevskaya has shown us that love can find us all even in the darkest of times. Love isn’t just something that happens in fairy tales or in Nicholas Sparks novels… is messy.

Side note…..this is my first book by Petrushevskaya but I am already on the look out for more. I hear good things about There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmila Petrushevskaya, Anna Summers (Translation)

  • Paperback, 192 pages
  • Published January 29th 2013 by Penguin Books
  • ISBN 0143121529 (ISBN13: 9780143121527)
  • Review copy provided by: Viking/Penguin Books in exchange for an honest review

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5 (a tantalizing, dark read about the messy reality of love)

Genre: Contempo Lit, short stories

Memorable lines/quotes:

It was like a temporary suicide, he thought, a thing that everyone desires at some point–to step out for a while, then come back to see what happened. (70-71)

6 thoughts on “Review: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

  1. This sounds really fascinating. I love the idea of stories exploring the many facets of love, including the darker sides. And I’m sure the Russian perspective adds yet another layer of interest. I’ll keep an eye out for this!

  2. You’re perfectly right, TLB — what a title! The collection fairly demands to be read, thusly named. I love unconventional contemporary literature, and I love strong short fiction collections — this sounds like it combines both awesomely, so I’m looking forward to checking it out soon. Thank you for such a comprehensive review! 🙂

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