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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Multiple Personalities

Tatyana Shcherbina

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To purchase Multiple Personalities

Title: Multiple Personalities
Author: Tatyana Shcherbina
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 165 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Multiple Personalities - US
Multiple Personalities - UK
Multiple Personalities - Canada
  • Russian title: Размножение личности
  • Translated by Melanie Moore

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Our Assessment:

B : quite the convolute, but also enjoyably twisted

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Multiple Personalities is, for the most part, nominally narrated by Tanya. It begins with her recounting a "persistent fantasy": finding Pushkin, just before his wedding, transported to 2006 -- where she recognizes him and takes him home with her. This sort of transposition in time recurs throughout the novel, in more and less fantastical variations; complicating matters, too, identities are often in flux: people forget who they are, or are transformed, in name and in person: true to its title, Multiple Personalities includes numerous variations on multiple personalities .....
       Explanations abound: a character introduced as Iris admits that's not her real name:

I got it when I was seven. Iris means Not-Rosa. That's why they called me that -- in order to pull up Rosa's roots and plant Iris in her place. There were other options: Lily, Daisy.
       Another character is called Sylvaine Personne, her first name itself an acronym, containing her multiple personalities (even as her second name suggests the complete absence of identity). It's hardly surprising that one of the authors invoked is the Fernando Pessoa, the man of so many heteronyms -- or, as one person puts it: "The poet was like the earth, inhabited by different peoples, some in contact with one other, others believing they were alone in the world".
       As the character(s) note, the classical unities of place and action are generally seen as a given -- yet: "Unity of person wasn't even discussed". In her novel, Shcherbina certainly puts it in play -- along with strongly challenging any concept of unity of action.
       We're told (well, someone says): "Tanya now, she's real" -- but layering in others' stories and perspectives distances the reader from her, the original narrator. And the other characters aren't as firmly grounded: "Iris has been left here from the future", for example.
       Beyond even the circles of female friends and acquaintances and their stories -- from Tanya to Rosa to Iris (the latter two also confused for one another) -- the novel takes bigger detours too: no less than a fifth of the novel, thirty-five pages, consists of a variation on Hamlet. Another longer section pits the Right and Left Hemispheres of one of the character's minds against each other with a dialogue between them (that eventually brings them together).
       Russian history, and especially contemporary history, is central to the novel too, beginning with Pushkin finding himself in a modern Russia that he first takes to be Hell, and which he can't adapt to. Even the Hamlet-variation is strongly colored by contemporary Russian conditions, moving through recent times. And Multiple Personalities isn't just of the present but also of the future -- where the penultimate chapter, set in 2030, offers some explanations for what has been presented so far, and the questions of identity that have plagued the various characters. But even after this, Shcherbina offers yet another nice twist in her concluding chapter.
       It makes for a web of not entirely neatly intertwining stories: by toying with unities of person and time Shcherbina adds more dimensions to her narrative than readers are generally confronted with, the story shifting with the changing perspectives of its chapters, the fit between them not always clear.
       It is also a novel of the Russian condition in its descriptions of the characters' everyday experiences -- even in the dramatized form of the alternate-Hamlet. There are several cases of a sort of somnolence -- a deep and often prolonged sleep -- that fits the burred vision of events; dreams -- or what seem like dreams -- are also significant. Indeed, reality -- like identity -- seems elsewhere, or at least hard to grasp. As one person explains:
All that is manifest is false and organized so that no-one is able to see real life and thereby encroach upon it or disturb anything in it.
       Which turns out to be very accurate. And is certainly one way of describing the unreality of contemporary Russia.
       Slightly dreamy, and certainly convoluted, Multiple Personalities is an intriguing take on modern Russia and the individual in it, with several inspired episodes (including both the opening and the final two chapters).

- M.A.Orthofer, 27 September 2015

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Multiple Personalities: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Tatyana Shcherbina (Tatiana Chtcherbina; Татьяна Георгиевна Щербина) was born in 1954.

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