Cocaine, Aleksandr Skorobogatov: press quotes

Cutting Edge Awards 2018: long-list, “The Best Translated Book of the Year”

Literatuurplein: “The Best Book of the Week”


Readers who swooned over his wonderful Portrait of an Unknown Girl or raced through the pulse-pounding ‘modern classic’ Sergeant Bertrand won’t know what’s in store for them when they start reading Cocaine, the new novel by the Antwerp-based Russian writer Aleksandr Skorobogatov. Skorobogatov gloriously goes off the rails and bends every rule. Anyone who dares to board this surreal rollercoaster ride of a novel will find themselves tumbling and swaying ecstatically from screamingly funny formal experiments to hilarious political hot-button issues and pitch-dark fever dreams. Whoever manages to get off unscathed will never see the world in the same way again. Not for the faint of heart, but what a great book!
Bent Van Looy, Culture Club Magazine


In a ceaseless, enjoyably crazy flow of hallucinations, this extravagant ode to artistry explores the limits of the imagination and the Russian absurdist tradition.
Experimentation is clearly central to Cocaine. All the way towards the border of sanity. This book shamelessly wants to move boundaries. My advice for how to savor this overwhelming satirical onslaught? Take a deep breath, pull out all the stops in your mind, and give yourself over to it entirely. Let yourself go, let yourself be swept along, like an uprooted tree in a tornado.
If you succeed in removing all those rusted dampers on your imagination (remember Coleridge’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief,’ and see also my earlier advice), then I guarantee boundless reading pleasure will be yours.
The writer as the conscience of society, as an unapproachable demiurge, as a safety-net and as a beacon. Skorobogatov aims high, mixes the burlesque with the tragic and gets away with it brilliantly. In this exuberant phantasmagoria with the technical ingeniousness of a Fabergé egg, nothing is what it seems and everything seems possible. Which, the way I see it, perfectly describes the literary imagination.
Laudrent De Maertelaer, MappaLibri


With Cocaine, the author enthusiastically dives into the maelstrom of that voracious, unbridled Russian literature: a mix of a precipitous imagination, trenchant political criticism hidden behind “abstraction,” surrealism and frequently open and frank sarcasm.
In this tragihilarious novel, Skorobogatov plunges himself and his readers into the increasingly disturbed mind of an author, a figure that’s familiar and yet unknown to us: he could have just stepped out of The Brothers KaramazovThe Master and Margarita, or Gogol’s The Nose. Walking around in circles in his own mind, aided by a more or else constant intake of alcohol. And by characters that belong to the Russian equivalents of Brueghel and Bosch, dramatically clownesque, propelling themselves towards ever new precipices.
I love reading in bed, and I’m laughing out loud in bed with this silly, exuberant Russian Pallieter [the bawdy bon-vivant of a famous early 20th-century novel by Felix Timmermans], to the dismay of my bedfellow. What a treasure, literature like this, unrestrained, defiant, melancholy, in-your-face — and impossible to summarize neatly, but gloriously jolting and jarring, in search of the limits to the imagination of this exceptional writer — but you won’t find them in this book. Cocaine is a gift from Aleksandr Skorobogatov. Open it and snort away!
— René Hooyberghs, Gierik & NVT


The novel’s flap copy places Cocaine within the best Russian tradition. Dostoevsky is never far away and, like Nabokov, Skorobogatov engages the reader in battle. But we can also place this novel in the tradition of Vonnegut, Heller or Joyce. Like them, Skorobogatov understands that reality cannot be captured in a simple, well-rounded story. With Cocaine, has Skorobogatov delivered his own Ulysses?
When, 100 years from now, this novel will be analysed as a product of the times in which it was written, it will show a world both fragmented and fragmentary, but also rich and multi-faceted. Snort this literary Cocaine! It is a fever dream, a maelstrom, a disconcerting but exquisite kaleidoscope.
Karel-Willem Delrue, Cutting Edge (4 out of 5 stars)


Absolutely one of the most amazing books of 2017. Skorobogatov proves himself a worthy successor to surrealists such as André Breton. It’s irresistibly funny. From the dazzling opening pages, the story grabs you, and you won’t be able to put it down.
Sonja de Jong, Noordhollands Dagblad


The trip undertaken by the protagonist of Cocaine is also a journey through world literature. The formal experimentation of Cocaine is reminiscent of Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. Sarah, neither man nor woman, but someone who feels like a chair and is looking for someone willing to take a seat on them, could have been thought up by a latter-day Gogol, and intellectually and emotionally, the Antwerp-based Russian author Aleksandr Skorobogatov seems to be a long-lost cousin of Beckett. Because that’s what this novel is really about: an existential fear and the unbridgeable gap between the artist and the world in which he lives.
Marnix Verplanke, Knack Focus


In the manner of the Russian greats, Skorobogatov writes about inhuman pain and turns it into an absurd and burlesque theatre. This is a novel that is consistently unconventional, an experiment carried through to its radical conclusion, a novel you have to be prepared to open yourself up to. It is a celebration of the imagination. Skorobogatov is a gifted builder of sentences, as he already demonstrated with his breathtaking Portrait of an Unknown Girl. The self-mockery of the characters in Cocaine, in particular the figure of the author, is sharp as a knife. Doubt as the main engine of creativity, fully articulated. In this sense, this book goes much further than the so-called total theatre of Karl Ove Knausgård. Cocaine is, both literally and figuratively, a beautiful masked ball.
Guus Bauer, TZUM / Literatuurplein


Cocaine is one big joke with, as befits a good joke, sharp edges and a bitter taste. A darkly absurd novel as it has been perfected by Russian literature. Skorobogatov pulls out all the stops in Cocaine; brilliant sentences go hand in hand with unrestrained rambling. Drunkenness, murder, fighting, incest: Skorobogatov goes all the way. Fortunately, we don’t have to take anything seriously. To wit: the scene in which a beautiful Swedish woman confesses that deep down she isn’t a woman but a chair.
There’s serious drama brewing in Cocaine: it’s about the impossibility of feeling at home, the impossibility of knowing the rules and regulations. How to live? For a ‘traveller’ – a euphemism for an emigrant – there are fewer toeholds in the stream of hallucinations that reality pretends to consist of. And that’s the best experience of reading this at times brilliant and at times lurid novel: what happens to you when the ground beneath your feet gives way, when you lose your family and loved ones, when the rabbit hole is flooded by a big wave. When everything is turned on its head, can incest be love? Can the dead come back to life? Can the pain of life cease when you become someone else? Can a book be read while the writer is still writing it? Well, why not?
Maria Vlaar, De Standaard der Letteren (4 out of 5 stars)


Cocaine is a must-read book.
— Eveline Janssens, Elle Belgium


Skorobogatov’s startling talent as a writer leaves you speechless with admiration.
— Ellen de Jong, Baarnsche Courant


About each aspect of this novel (title, plot, style, meaning) you could easily write a paper, or a dissertation even.
Hans van Willigenburg, ThePostOnline


Tripping is nothing compared to this rollercoaster ride of fevered images. A dazzling and uncompromising descent into the subconscious as only great Russian writers dare undertake it.”
Chris Ceustermans, Gierik & NVT


Deliciously intricate and just as enthralling. As a reader you are constantly being misdirected, and the sheer improbability of the story exerts an irresistible pull. COCAINE is a dream like no other.
Stefan Blommaert, VRT