The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

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Matthew’s raving about The Master and Margarita persuaded me to buy a copy, and I am very pleased I read it, although it has to be the most bizarre book I have ever read!

The book is set primarily in 1930s Moscow and begins with three men arguing over the non-existence of God. Suddenly a stranger appears, and amused by their conversation, asks if they believe in the devil either. The stranger goes on to predict that one of the men, the poet Berlioz, will die, which he does in a shockingly quick and bizarre way.

The others are stunned by his death, but this is only the beginning of the weird events which go on to occur. The stranger claims to be a professor of black magic and he brings with him a six foot tall cat called Behomoth who smokes cigars. The plot gets stranger as it continues, and also alternates between the trial of Yeshua (Jesus) in Jerusalem. It is really hard to summarize the book, as so much happens, but it is packed with action, inventiveness and political/religious satire.

I have to admit that there were many aspects of the book I didn’t like, and I’m sure that a lot of the religion and politics went over my head, but the inventiveness of this book was amazing. There were many parallels with Murakami, and I am also spotting similarities between this book and 2666, which I am currently reading with Steph and Claire.  

Overall, I’m really pleased that I read it, as I think it is an important piece of literature, but I prefer my books to be based slightly closer to reality.

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The Master and Margarita website is one of the best website for an individual book I have found. It even contains maps showing where each event occurs. Only take a look if you’ve read the book though, as it is packed with spoilers.

Have you read The Master and Margarita?

What is the weirdest book you have ever read?


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28 Comments

  1. Claire says:

    I will get around to reading this book this year.

    Hmmm, the weirdest book I have ever read? Probably The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Murakami, which is definitely bizarre and surreal, with Sputnik Sweetheart as a close second.

  2. Jackie says:

    Claire – I haven’t read The Wind up Bird Chronicle yet, but plan to soon. The weirdest book I’ve read prior to this was a Murakami one too – I’m not sure which was weirder – Kafka on the Shore or The Wild Sheep Chase. I love Murakami though, the Master and Margarita just had a bit too much symbolism for me.

  3. Diane says:

    I have this one and really want to read it but I’m not sure it’ll be what I was expecting??

  4. Steph says:

    Jackie, I tried reading this book earlier in the year because Tony read it and loved it and said he knew I would like it too, but I was feeling really groggy/sluggish at that time, so I just couldn’t keep track of who was who and what was going on. I only made it through about 5 chapters, before I decided that I would be better served by waiting for a later time to read it, when I had the best chance of appreciating it. I was just too mentally tired for the book! ;) I do think I’ll like it when I know I have the mental resources to devote to it. For all the playful spirit of the book, it’s not exactly a light read!

    As for the weirdest book I’ve ever read, I realized I tend to not read anything I consider too zany, or at least not in a way that makes it feel unapproachable to me. I read Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut last year, and that was pretty out there, but I don’t know that I’ve read anything that parallels the zaniness of this book!

  5. Steph says:

    Actually, now that I think of it, I should update my last comment to say that the short story anthology I read earlier this year, Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link, was completely bizarre. It was definitely a strange, weird series of tales, most of which I didn’t get!

  6. Jackie says:

    Diane – What are you expecting?! I found it quite easy to read, but it was challenging in the respect that there is so much going on that it needs a bit of time to stop and think about each section. It took me quite a while to read (3 weeks) as I found I couldn’t read too much at once. If you’d like to know more – just ask – I’m very happy to answer any questions you have on the book.

  7. Rebecca Reid says:

    “I prefer my books to be based slightly closer to reality.” Me too, but this book does intrigue me!

  8. Jackie says:

    Steph – I think you will like it, but it does require a bit of mental energy! I think the comparisons with 2666 will be especially interesting for you – three critics in the beginning of both books for example.

    I’ve never heard of Kelly Link, but I think I’ll give those short stories a miss!

  9. Jackie says:

    Rebecca – I think you’d enjoy reading this book. It is one of those classics which other authors refer to a lot. It is weird, but unlike the magical realism of Rushdie, it seems reasonably plausible – that’s if 6 foot talking cats can ever be realistic!!

  10. Violet says:

    Love the plot, never heard of the book. The site really is very detailed and user friendly. Oh I did read a very wierd book recently which I will be reviewing soon :)

  11. Meghan says:

    I would have said this was the weirdest book I have ever read. It’s so peculiar! I found it quite difficult to get through but more or less worthy in the end. =)

  12. Jenny says:

    Geek Love may be the weirdest book I ever read. I started The Master and Margarita a while ago, but I was put off by how strange it was, and how often I wasn’t sure whether I was understanding what was happening. Oh, and the translation. I hate, hate, hate reading books in translation. I’ve heard SO MANY good things about this book I feel like I should learn Russian so that I can appreciate it!

  13. Claire says:

    Jackie, I have to amend my previous choice and agree that Geek Love was one of the weirdest books I have ever read; I loved it though.

  14. Jackie says:

    Violet – I look forward to hearing all about your weird book!

    Meghan – I agree – hard to get through at times, but worthy in the end.

    Jenny – It is a shame you hate reading books in translation, as some of them are excellent. It is always better to read books in the original language, but there is no way I could learn all the languages I’d need to, so translation is the next best thing. Some of the translators do a really good job. Perhaps you just need to try a few different books to see how good they can be.

    Claire – I’ve never heard of Geek Love before. I’ll have to go and look it up!

  15. CBJames says:

    You know, I never really stopped to ask what this book was about. I’ve been reading about it on Matt’s site for so long, I guess I just thought I knew what it was about.

    You’ve made me want to read it even more.

    As for wierd books, I read a lot of wierd books. I couldn’t possibly pick out the wierdest. Maybe Dalton Trubmo’s Johnny Got his Gun which has a blind, deaf, mute with neither arms nor legs as its narrator.

  16. Simon S says:

    I am waiting until I see a certain copy of this (I know it shouldnt be about the cover but sadly it is) and then I am definately going to have to give it a go!

  17. The plot sounds fantastic. I do like books that are slightly surreal. Just to go with the trend, Murakami’s Norwegian Wood was pretty bizarre. Another book that fits the bill, from this year’s reading, is David Mitchell’s Number9Dream. The bowling scene from the book still gives me shudders! They do say Mitchell’s work is quite Murakami inspired, so…..

    I’m going to try finding this book. It sure sounds like something I’d enjoy.

  18. Jackie says:

    CBJames – Johnny Got his Gun does sound weird! I’m not sure if I want to read that or not!!

    Simon – Which copy are you after? Why is it special?

    uncertainprinciples – I love David Mitchell too! I have read (and loved!) all his books

  19. Matt says:

    The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Murakami is also the weirdest book I have read. Kafka on the Other Shore is the next weirdest. Master and Margarita is a difficult book to like, and not to mention that it warrants ruminations and re-reads to make sense of everything. That is why I’m reading it ever year. :)

  20. Jackie says:

    Matt – Thank you for recommending it – I am really pleased that I’ve read it, and I can see why it would improve with each re-read. I’m planning to read the graphic novel soon – does that count as a re-read?! I’m looking forward to reading The Wind up Bird Chronicle now – will I be able to like a book weirder than Kafka on the Shore?!

  21. Matt says:

    It would be awesome if you can post the author/illustrator info for the graphic novel. I have misplaced it and couldn’t find a copy of the book. Of course the graphic novel would count a re-read. :) I have never read any graphic novel so reading The Master and Margarita in this form would be doubly special for me.

  22. softdrink says:

    Weird? I’m there! :-)

    Two of the weirdest books I’ve ever read are The Roaches have No King and Geek Love.

  23. Jackie says:

    Matt – The authors are: Andrzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal. ISBN: 9780955816987. I have just had a quick flick through and love the look of it!

    softdrink – I hadn’t never heard of Geek Love before this post. I think I’m going to have to find a copy!

  24. Michelle says:

    So many mentions of Geek Love. I’m going to look it up in a minute.

    I read Windup Bird Chronicle while doped up on morphine, which I’m sure added to the weirdness of the book. It’s definately number one on my list.

  25. Jackie says:

    Michelle – I looked up Geek Love and found this quote about it:

    “So monumentally tasteless that it ought to have a sick bag incorporated into its jacket design.”

    I’m not sure it is one I want to read, but I am very intrigued!

  26. Terri B. says:

    I read this quite a long time ago. I remember liking it, yet being a bit baffled. The part that has stuck with me all these years is Pilate’s headache!

    1. Jackie says:

      I think the giant cat is the bit which I will always rememeber! It is a very strange book!

  27. Dark Puss says:

    Lindsay of the sadly now defunct “Books do furnish a room” suggested I read this book and I thought it fabulous (in all senses). Behemoth is indeed a strange beast and I loved the fact that on the tram the concern was with his trying to buy a ticket more than his ability to speak.

    A truly magical book, I’ll link to what Lindsay had to say, and my own feeble contribution, here: http://booksdofurnisharoom.typepad.com/books_do_furnish_a_room/2009/05/a-russian-faust.html

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