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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Yuri Felsen

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To purchase Deceit

Title: Deceit
Author: Yuri Felsen
Genre: Novel
Written: 1930 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 241 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Deceit - US
Deceit - UK
Deceit - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Russian title: Обман
  • Translated by Bryan Karetnyk
  • The Prototype (UK) edition includes a Foreword by Peter Pomerantsev and an Afterword by Bryan Karetnyk
  • The Astra House (US) edition includes a Foreword and a Translator's Note by Bryan Karetnyk

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Our Assessment:

B : an appealing little work, nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Literary Review . 6/2022 Donald Rayfield
The Spectator . 20/8/2022 Matthew Janney
The Telegraph . 12/6/2022 Cal Revely-Calder
TLS . 23/9/2022 Eric Naiman

  From the Reviews:
  • "The prose is electrifying, irascible and melodic, a potentially unruly mixture brought harmoniously together by the translator Bryan Karetnyk. (...) Felsen is often described as a purveyor of auto-fiction before it existed. But if the genre today implies self-understanding through the edifying process of writing, Felsen offers a more sobering conclusion: that writing may in fact bring us both closer to and further from reality, from the blinding light of truth." - Matthew Janney, The Spectator

  • "His introspections can seem a shade too dense and repetitive, but the Proustian bar is set so high. Felsen’s name deserves to be conjured with, just as it was before Paris fell." - Cal Revely-Calder, The Telegraph

  • "Felsen’s prose is striking for its lack of detail and characterization. (...) Felsen can seem hostile towards all interior and exterior decoration." - Eric Naiman, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The three-act novel Deceit is presented in the form of diary-entries made by a Russian émigré living in Paris in the 1920s -- long entries that come bunched together: Part I covers 7 to 21 December, while Part II jumps ahead to mid-June, the final entry there dated 7 July; Part III then covers a month in the fall. The narrator is not impoverished, and, conveniently, anticipates, as the novel opens coming into some decent money -- "a small matter that will allow me several months' freedom from having to seek out new ventures, freedom from worrying -- with indignity and gall -- about every little expense", and, indeed for most of the novel he is mostly a man of leisure.
       A Berlin acquaintance of his, Katerina Viktorovna, had long touted her niece, one Lyolya Heard, to the narrator, which, along with various: "photographs, letters, casually uttered words" had led him to construct a fanciful image of this woman in his mind's eye. The opportunity finally comes to meet her when she, too, comes to Paris -- having left her husband a while back. There's a build-up of anticipation -- and then the pleasing realization when he finally meets her that: "she was just as Katerina Viktorovna had described her and I myself had pictured her for years".
       A relationship develops -- but, as the narrator had revealed early on: "I have the unhappy knack of being determined too much by women". He also learns more of another man in her life, to whom she had been close before she hastily married, a Sergei N.
       The second part of the novel has Lyolya away from Paris again -- but still very much on the narrator's mind:

     The dynamism of my inner world, which is set in motion, as it were, by the magic words "Lyolya and I," is more loaded than I ever believed possible: rage, noble sentiment, tenderness -- they all reach their limits without the slightest bit of reticence or restraint.
       In her absence, he becomes involved with two other women -- though when Lyolya returns to Paris again, as she does for the third part of the novel, he ditches these two and returns to his: "unabashed, all-consuming obsession". He recognizes Lyolya's power over him -- and that it's neither very healthy nor really rational, as she is clearly also toying with him in some ways and hardly completely devoted to him. But then he has and does play games as well -- admitting ultimately too, to himself and to the reader:
     It is impossible to live without deceit, however: we are made so that we shall never find our way out of this dead end
       It makes for a nice little novel of those times and that milieu, and the games people play with one another. It is a novel of deep and shallow passions, and the contrast and conflict between what we construct in our mind's eyes and the complexities of human relationships.
       Much of the charm of Deceit comes from its style -- with both Felsen and his narrator putting style above substance (though there is enough of that too). The narrator is not so much carried away by occasional flights of imagination as living -- and writing -- steadily in an almost dream-like state. The reality of Lyolya -- and, to a lesser extent, life around him generally -- of course constantly clashes with his construct, never able to live up his fantasy, as he is deceived (and deceives himself) on this level too, as well as the more mundane one.
       It's a fine little novel of its times and psychological study, and it holds up well enough nearly a century later.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 February 2023

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Deceit: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Yuri Felsen (Юрий Фельзен; born: Nikolai Freudenstein) lived 1894 to 1943.

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© 2023 the complete review

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