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FICTION : HIS BUTLER'S STORY by Edward Limonov, translated by Judson Rosengrant (Grove: $16.95; 313 pp.).

June 14, 1987|Roberta Smoodin

In "His Butler's Story," author Edward Limonov has written a novel about a fictional character named Edward Limonov. The character, a Russian emigre living in New York and barely eking out an existence, suffering from loneliness and language-loss and various existential and physical longings, finds a job as a butler to an abundantly wealthy tycoon, whom he loathes, and envies, and admires. He also thinks that in many ways he and the tycoon are alike. Edward, the character, ponders the meaning of this twinning quite a bit. That is, when he isn't pondering, in graphic, grueling detail, events from his own epic sexual adventuring. Edward, the character, is easy to understand, because his priorities are so obvious: First, he thinks about sex; second, his tycoon; and third, his status in the Russian emigre community.

It is difficult to make the life of such an appalling character pleasant reading. Henry Miller succeeded because of an antic quality to his work, an off-the-cuff immediacy that made the world seem like one big mud puddle one could not avoid stepping in: The universality of Miller's funkiness got him out of charges of misogyny and misanthropy. Limonov the author is not so lucky. His character, Limonov, becomes a self-indulgent, narcissistic lout unable to make his plight understandable as anything but a terminal case of the uglies. The fact that all grace and charm have been removed from the style by a shoddy, clumsy job of translating, full of wrong words and elementary syntactical errors, doesn't excuse either author or character. Author, character and translator all need their minds and mouths washed out with Lava.

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