Matricule des Anges: Russian Gothic, by Alexandre Skorobogatov

Matricule des Anges: Russian Gothic, by Alexandre Skorobogatov

Virginie Mailles Viard

What do Nikolai, the hero of Russian Gothic, Paul in Chabrol’s Hell and Poprischin, the petty clerk in Gogol’s Diary of a Madman all have in common?

They are all in love with a woman, and all thrown headlong into tragedy. Something has come loose in Nikolai’s head. He has completely lost that tenuous ability to change with reality. When his wife Vera half opens the door to their small dark apartment – Nikolai cannot stand the light – he thinks this is so she can whisper to her lovers to turn them away. In his paranoid and schizophrenic delirium Nikolai has fabricated a companion, Sergeant Bertrand, who exacerbates his suffering through the swirling cigar smoke and dry click of his cigarette lighter. Vera would like to shout out that this is all false, but he knows well that no one could resist such a beautiful woman, a talented and popular actress.

The book opens like a play where from the first scene the action has already taken root and destiny marches on ineluctably. Vera’s story could have been just that of a woman who is the victim of her husband’s crazy jealousy. But Aleksandr Skorobogatov has set up a subtle immersion in his hero’s deliriums, leaving the reader a few short breaths of air from time to time. Just to touch the fragile frontier between the reality that escapes Nikolai and the images that he creates that shout out they are true. The narrative goes through the hero’s and the narrator’s hands, muddling their voices. “She assured me that the dressing rooms are locked, but who will answer this question for me:does she always lock the door when she dresses before the show?(…) he didn’t believe her:not true, not true…“ After furiously demolishing Vera’s theatrical partner, Nikolai insists that she give up her career as an actress. Behind closed doors he will be the only viewer of his wife’s altercations, and the protagonist in the destruction of their relationship. Skorobogatov makes a precision job of describing Nikolai’s visions in a simple and detached, almost laconic, style to draw the heart rending picture of a man racked with love and madness.

Traduit du russe par Dany Savelli, Autrement, 117 p., 14 €