Monday, December 22, 2008
Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
It's always great to find a St. Petersburg reference on the second page (fine, 4th if you count one page for the epigraph and one blank page) of a new novel: "principally he was pitiable -- like one of those Petersburgians of yesteryear whose duties have washed him up on the wrong side of the Urals." This, talking about a London Englishman who misses life in NYC. I wonder which Petersburgians he means? Surely, many of them have found themselves in Siberia in the past, but who has ever done it out of the call of duty (vs. being imprisoned and sent to a labor camp)? Nobody comes to mind who might readily justify the metaphor. Perhaps, there's a confusion of mountain ranges here. If by "yesteryear" O'Neill means the 19th Century, then, yeah, duty frequently found "Petersburgians" on the wrong side of Caucausus mountains (i.e., Pushkin). Of course, he might be speaking of "duties" ironically, because since everybody knows that nobody goes to Siberia out of their own whim, so isn't it funny to imagine some old-fashioned Petersburgians with their quaint ideas of duty going to Siberia on purpose? But why Petersburgians then? Wouldn't Moskovites look as funny trying to cross over? This Petersburgian is confused.