Wednesday, 28 May 2014
Author: William Gerhardie
Year of publication: 1922. Penguin edition 1974.
Back cover blurb: 'Written shortly after the First World War, and published in 1922, this novel made its young author an instant success. Gerhardie uses his wartime experiences in Futility to throw into relief his main theme; this was perhaps the first work to strike the 'waiting' motif that was to become fashionable many years later with Beckett's Godot. Against a tragically unchanging background is set the story of an Englishman brought up in Russia and the pathos of his growing love for Nina, the second of three bewitching daughters. Their father gathers about him an army of wrangling dependants, but his hopes of a fortune rise while his actual fortune diminishes. When asked at a crucial stage what he will do he decides, "I think I'll wait. It can't be long now."'
Reading reveals: Not really a Lost Book, more a declared classic that not many people bother with and goes out of print quite a lot. I was attracted to reading a novel with the most unappealing title imaginable, just for reasons of perversity.
Set in Russia either side of the Revolution, the absurd story of Futility is as described above. Although stylistically it's very much trad, the internal logic is quietly modernist. It's sort of 'cosy Kafka', with all the characters somehow conspiring to ensure that nothing ever resolves for any of them. Pleasingly odd.
Random paragraph: 'They had been sitting silently for a time. Nina seemed sad; Sonia and Vera sulky. It was twilight, but no one had thought of switching on the light. No one would dance. I played the piano for a while, and then stopped.'