Rights sold: Russia - AST
Longlisted for the 2018 National Bestseller literary award
Ksenia Buksha’s new novel The Detector is an anti-utopia dressed up as a classic closed-circle murder mystery, where biting sociopolitical satire on a police state alternates with profound poetic lyricism. The action takes place in Russia in the near future, where everyone in the land is preparing for the tsar’s coronation. The ceremony is to take place in an ancient monastery on the “Islands” (invented by the author, they are an evident allusion to the Solovetsky monastery beloved by Vladimir Putin). With thousands of people thronging to the locale, a walk-through security screener – the Detector – has been installed at the landing pier as one of the event’s many safety measures. Ten visitors set it off, for reasons none of them can fathom, and they are divested of their possessions and taken into custody inside the island fortress.
This is the mismatched band of strangers that ends up locked inside one of the Island Monastery’s cells, awaiting “clarification of their circumstances:” an oppositional journalist; a serial foster mother; a successful Central Asian businessman; a normalization-chip developer convinced that his implants, embedded in citizens’ brains, can maximize human productivity; a femme fatale/professional wedding organizer; an aging hippie who can predict the future; an earnest Frenchman who runs a Russian Down syndrome support group; a Jewish grandma who speaks Dog; a kind man who tries to get in to the ceremony on his dead brother’s ticket; and a woman who wants to have the tsar’s baby. They squabble over everything from which of them must be guilty of wanting to kill the tsar, to how to divide up their rations, to the childlessness tax and the ban on resuscitating anyone who is reproductively disabled or of retirement age. Here, in this closed space, they display both their own individual characters and the character of the country they live in, the character of today’s Russia.
The lives of all ten of these dissimilar individuals depend on whether they can solve a mystery: what shared trait made them each set off the Detector? And what is going to happen to them after the coronation?
Praise for Ksenia Buksha´s The Detector
As usual, Ksenia Buksha’s new novel isn’t anything at all like her previous ones. As usual, it is dazzlingly brilliant, fresh, and disturbing. And as usual, it’s full of black comedy, ruthlessness, and that special kind of elegance and grace found only in Petersburg prose. And the fact that these days, lots of people are having similar thoughts and feelings? Well, that’s what makes writers writers: while we haven’t even admitted it to ourselves yet, they’ve already said it out loud, and it left our ears ringing. -- Dmitry Bykov, literary critic
Buksha is talented and fizzing with ideas, with her own idiosyncratic metre and vernacular, which makes for an exciting read. The Frame / Ramka throws together ten characters (all determined by the metal-detector-like "frame" to be a danger to the mass spectacle they've all come to attend, and consequently temporarily incarcerated together) and uses them, with their individual narrative dialects to voice, interrogate, and kick around a host of ideas ranging from the surveillance state and imminent technocracy to human rights, consumerism, identity, the corruption of power, and the chaotic perils of modern life. She owes a debt to both Sorokin and Kafka, but writes with a manic energy all her own. Beyond the clever device of the frame as an impassive automated bureaucratic separator of the wheat from the chaff, there's no meaningful overarching plot, but there needn't be - like a spliced-and-diced video-game Canterbury Tales on acid, the otkazniks' individual stories crash into a kind of mosaic whose nuance may be hard to discern but whose overall impression is one of wild colour and eye-popping, nerve-shredding lights. Towards the end the sheer multiplicity of characters and vectors spins out of control and explodes, but perhaps to wish for a less messy ending is beside the point. With the stories flipping between monologue, stream-of-consciousness, dialogue and exchanges often resembling texting rather than conversation as they unfold, the whole text comes intriguingly close to a prose poem. The Frame is hyper-active, funny, idiosyncratic and exhausting - but certainly never bland. -- Ilona Chavasse, literary critic and translator