Here you will meet that singular smile, the height of art, which may cause you sometimes to melt with pleasure, sometimes suddenly to see yourself lower than grass, and you hang your head. Here you will meet people discussing a concert or the weather with an extraordinary nobility and sense of their own dignity. You will meet thousands of inconceivable characters and phenomena. O Creator! What strange characters one meets in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol!
Actually, that should read “on Nevsky Prospect.” It's my favorite story, and the one from which I lifted the above paragraph. I read in no particular order as led by the titles and my moods, a method befitting the capricious, digressive storytelling. When finished, it felt like returning from a fascinating explore through a strange land, and was something of a let down, considering how dull my environs seemed in comparison.
Nevsky Prospect, for example, is a place where “nothing stands still, and people appear and disappear and reappear in other guises, changing constantly with the light,” and like the place, the narrative throngs with energy and detail.
The whole, originally written in Russian, is a quilted sort of work, pieced from colorful swatches of journal, fable, history, gossip and news. By turns the telling brought to mind Dostoevsky, Chekhov or Edgar Allen Poe, but the voice is distinctly Gogol's. He has his own way with humor and irony, and both figure prominently throughout, but his crafting of horror is especially fine.
My second favorite story, after Nevsky Prospect
, is Gogol’s retelling of a monster legend called Viy
, and oy Viy! talk about haunted. You don't know from haunted till you've got monsters stuck in all the windows and doors from all the tormented spirits who no matter how hard they tried could not escape, and when trapped turned into monsters now overgrown with roots, weeds and thorns, as wretched as souls festering with regret and no way to repent and no one to care if they did, and adding insult to injury, it so happens they're stuck in a church.
An introduction notes rightly that "nature is always doubled by the supernatural in Gogol's tales and the ordinary is always open to the assaults of the extraordinary," making this an especially good read if you're in the mood for a fascinating explore.