72. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov (published 1967)

I don’t like ‘magic realism’, and I don’t read much in the way of fantasy, so I approached The Master and Margarita with trepidation, urged on by so many recommendations that I couldn’t ignore it any more. And I loved it, despite all the talking cats flying witches and so on. It’s properly trippy, but it’s also very funny (which is vital if you’re going to pull this sort of thing off) and gives a great insight into Stalinist Russia and its aftermath. Bulgakov manages to establish enough correspondences between the real and the fantastic so that each world enhances the other – there are different registers of meaning, but on the basic, primary level it’s a good entertaining narrative. That’s a great achievement in itself, but when you consider the political and social circumstances under which this was written – and why, perhaps, Bulgakov used the fairytale elements – it’s almost miraculous.

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Filed under My top 100 novels

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