‘The sea has neither reason nor pity.’
Posted November 17, 2014on:
I’m still trying to tap these pieces out on my phone with one thumb so academic veracity is frankly a bit of a busk but when we talk about the birth of the modern short story, we go back to Poe and we go back to Chekhov, primarily because there we find the transition from the short tale as a succinct abridgement of the larger narrative to a specialised examination of the way life moves. The journey from one moment to the next.
Poe’s time passed by each moment creeping up on the last, magnifying unease and shrouded in trips and traps. Chekhov could see the passage of time in the way one moment withered away to form the next. The ultimate examination of withering time is Gusev, drawn from his own experience of a ship’s sick bay. There is a closing sequence, which once resembled a leap from realism to imagination but now I’m not so sure, in which Gusev, who has spent the story pinned to the ground in pain and convinced of his imminent recovery, died and is buried at sea. We follow his body floating down, inspected by a shoal of fish who then stand aside to allow Gusev his final moment with an almost disinterested shark. It is fantastically beautiful writing – the whole story – and I recommend Rosamund Bartlett’s translation.
It’s 6.11am in the High Dependency unit.