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The Letter Killers Club by Sigismund…
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The Letter Killers Club

by Sigismund Krzyzanowski

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
An absolutely brilliant frame story where the connections and correspondences between stories and the frame itself are multifaceted and frustratingly complex. The ingenuity, variety, and wit on display are dazzling. The implicit critiques of not only Bolshevism but modernism are withering. Like the Canterbury Tales in reverse, this one ends in spring--spring rendered as winter's "death agony." ( )
1 vote j_blett | Apr 25, 2015 |
It's really more a collection of short stories more than a novel in a framework of being told as part of a series of club meetings. Krzhizhanovsky is a masterful storyteller. The images he paints and the witticisms sprinkled throughout his work is absolutely original and engaging. His insights (in some cases sadly) are as relevant today as when he wrote them. ( )
1 vote KimMarie1 | May 6, 2014 |
I really liked this one. It was cheeky, professional, and even experimental, given it was written around 1926.

The framing device is an original spin on a classic trope. Seven authors, who have arrived at the conclusion that their published ideas are diverting their readers' creativity and interfering with their readers' capacity for original ideas, decide to cease publishing. Instead, they hold weekly gatherings where they narrate their stories and themes to each other through speech only. Thus having become the titular killers of letters, they invite a "pure reader" -- one who reads and reads without really reflecting on the contents -- to judge the quality of the tales: would they stand up next to traditionally published works?

The novel is told in seven chapters, in which the seven letter killers take turns spinning their yarns. There's a reworking of Hamlet, in which familiar characters are doubled to bring out the duplicities inherent in the play; references to specific actors and Shakespeare trivia abound. There's a medieval-style fable about three vagrants who scour the world for the answer to the question: "what is the ultimate purpose of the mouth: talking, kissing, or eating?" supported with many references to the Church Fathers and the Scholastics. There's a science fiction tale in which trained bacteria have disconnected the nerves that operate muscles from those that operate thoughts, and via manipulation of the "ether wind" the resulting bodies can be remote-controlled and forced into menial labour.

Krzhizhanovsky has penned an enjoyable collection of semi-unfinished stories to explore themes of storytelling, the independence of art, and the relation between thoughts and their physical containers. The tales on offer are amusingly diverse, a group of sassy challenges to more mainstream fiction. Not all of them are memorable, but the ones that stand out more than make up for that. All share, though, a flighty quality, and a sense of impish humour. Throughout I felt like Krzhizhanovsky had had enormous fun writing these tales, and his panache was infectious.

I will most definitely read more of Krzhizhanovsky's works! ( )
  Petroglyph | Jun 5, 2013 |
I had read some short stories by Krzhizhanovsky previously and thought they were very good. His loose, metafictional novella The Letter Killers Club was also clever and enjoyable. The author tells the story of a group of writers – or non-writers – who meet every week to tell their stories. An outsider, the narrator, joins them and watches as the group falls apart. Much of the book is made up of the stories which are varied, ironic and delve into the nature of writing and creation. Many can also be seen as a comment on the Soviet system under which Krzhizhanovsky never found any success. Sometimes they can feel a little random but this is another interesting work by the author – will be looking for more.

The narrator, visiting a famous writer, learns how the club came about – the famous writer was forced to sell all his books and spent hours recreating their content, retelling the stories and taking the words and imagining something else. He finally wrote some of his imaginings down and was published and became successful. However, writing it down destroyed the work and after awhile the writer decided he would write no more, forming the group where stories were only told and never written.

The stories are an odd bunch. One is a riff on Hamlet, where the characters of Ophelia and Guildenstern are split in two and must compete for their roles as well as having outside lives. One half of Guildenstern visits the hall of Hamlets where he finds every actor who has played that role. A bit like the Stoppard take, clever and fun, though sometimes this one could feel a bit jumpy and random. The next stories are paired – they take place in a quasi-historical France, one describing the almost blasphemous custom of the Feast of the Ass, the other the sad story of a travelling priest/jester who gets stuck as a jester. The third story is similar to some of Krzhizhanovsky’s sci-fi shorts – it describes the mind control system generated by biological and technological means, where a person’s body can be separated from their mind and controlled. At first the government claims it will only be used on the mentally ill, as a kind of humane way to give them some use. Then unsurprisingly they use it on the rest of the population and make their zombies kill anyone who resists. The fourth story is an ironic philosophical comedy where three friends drunkenly debate the primary use of a mouth – for eating, talking or kissing. They set off on a quest to find the answer and endure several mishaps. The last story finds the Roman Mark Sept waiting on the bank of the Acheron as the obol necessary to pay the ferryman, Charon, was taken by the daughter of his slave. Several endings are provided by the group.

A number of interpretations could be provided for the stories of the group. One would be, of course, allegorical representations of the Soviet state. The writers refusing to publish and telling their stories to empty shelves in secret can be seen as a reaction to the repression. Many of the stories feature doublings – the two sides of the characters of Hamlet, the split personality of Francoise and the goliard in the French pair of stories, the separated mind and body in the sci fi piece. Russia is traditionally depicted with a face to the West and one to the East and the public/private divide that characterized the author’s life also necessitated something of a double life. The dystopia – with its attempts to control citizens in the name of progress - provides an obvious parallel as well.

However, both the framing stories and the stories of the group look at the creative process. The famous writer’s decision to start the meetings stems more from a personal crisis and the dissatisfaction with the actual writing – he feels he is losing something by permanently setting down his ideas. The stories are ironic, loose and metafictional, with members suggesting beginnings and endings, stories bleeding into one another or members appearing in the stories. There’s often an idea of deconstruction – besides divided characters, the fourth story is a deconstruction of the functions of a mouth, and the Hamlet take a breakdown of the play. However, although releasing the stories serves a function, in the end the club is under attack both internally and externally. Parallels can be found in the stories – too much talking isn’t a good thing in the fourth one and the importance of the book is underlined in the Hamlet riff. The ending also suggests that permanently setting something down is necessary even if it can be painful in different ways. Despite the oddities, the stories are all enjoyable in their own right – entertaining or dramatic or funny. Another good tale from Krzhizhanovsky. ( )
7 vote DieFledermaus | Sep 4, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sigismund Krzyzanowskiprimary authorall editionscalculated
Emerson, CarylIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Formozov, NikolaiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Turnbull, JoanneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Outre le bureau qui faisait office de cimetière des fictions, ma chambre était meublée d'un lit, d'une chaise et d'une étagère à livres - quatre longues planches occupant tout un mur et qui ployaient sous le faix des lettres. Ordinairement, le poêle n'avait rien à brûler et moi rien à manger. Mais j'avais pour ces livres une vénération quasi religieuse, comme d'autres pour des icônes. Les vendre ... cette idée ne m'effleurait pas jusqu'au jour où elle me fut imposée par un télégramme : "Mère décédée samedi. Présence indispensable. Venez." Le télégramme s'était abattu sur mes livres dans la matinée ; le soir même, les rayonnages étaient vides et je fourrais dans ma poche la bibliothèque métamorphosée en trois ou quatre billets de banque. La mort de celle qui vous a donné la vie est un évènement grave, très grave. C'est toujours, et pour chacun, un coin noir enfoncé dans la vie. Une fois acquittées les obligations funèbres, je m'en suis retourné vers mon misérable logis à mille verstes de là. Le jour du départ, je ne voyais rien de ce qui m'entourait, et c'est seulement à mon retour que l'effet produit par les rayonnages vides a pénétré mon esprit. Après m'être déshabillé et installé à la table, j'ai tourné les yeux vers le vide suspendu aux quatre planches noires. Quoique délivrées du poids des livres, les planches avaient conservé leur courbure, comme ployées sous la charge du vide. J'ai bien essayé de regarder ailleurs, mais, comme je l'ai déjà dit, il n'y avait dans la chambre que les rayonnages et le lit. Je me suis déshabillé et couché dans l'espoir que le sommeil chasserait la dépression. Eh bien non, après un bref répit, la même sensation m'a réveillé. J'étais couché le visage tourné vers les rayonnages et je voyais un reflet de lune tressauter le long des planches dénudées, comme si une vie à peine perceptible était en train de naître - à touches timides - là-bas, dans l'absence des livres. Bien sûr, tout cela n'était que coup d'archet sur des nerfs trop tendus, et quand le jour les eut relâchés, j'ai tranquillement examiné la béance des planches baignées de soleil et je me suis installé à mon bureau pour reprendre ma besogne habituelle. J'eus besoin d'un renseignement et ma main gauche, d'un geste quasi automatique, alla vers les rangées de livres pour ne rencontrer que le vide. Et puis encore une fois, et encore. Dépité, j'ai scruté la non-bibliothèque envahie d'un essaim de poussières de soleil, en faisant un effort de mémoire pour revoir la page et la ligne requises. Mais les lettres imaginaires que renfermait la reliure imaginaire bondissaient dans tous les sens, et au lieu de la ligne que je cherchais, j'obtenais un papillotement bigarré de mots, les lignes se brisaient et formaient des dizaines de combinaisons nouvelles. J'en ai choisi une que j'ai précautionneusement insérée dans mon texte.
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"Writers are professional killers of conceptions. The logic of the Letter Killers Club, a secret society of "conceivers" who commit nothing to paper on principle, is strict and uncompromising. Every Saturday they meet in a fire-lit room hung with blank black bookshelves to present their "pure and unsubstantiated" conceptions: a rehearsal of Hamlet hijacked by an actor who vanishes with the role; the double life of a medieval merry cleric derailed by a costume change; a machine-run world that imprisons men's minds while conscripting their bodies; a dead Roman scribe stranded this side of the River Acheron. The overarching scene of this short novel is set in Soviet Moscow, in the ominous 1920s. Known only by pseudonym, like Chesterton's anarchists in fin-de-sicle London, the Letter Killers are as mistrustful of one another as they are mesmerized by their despotic president. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is at his philosophical and fantastical best in this extended meditation on madness and silence, the word and the soul unbound"--… (more)

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