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Monday, May 31, 2010

The Business School Wives Book Club: Part 5 (Russia)

G. K. Chesterton’s 1912 novella Manalive is, without question, a bit of an odd one. If you are wondering how it came to be selected for the Russian instalment of the Business School Wives Book Club, then I must say that initially, I shared your confusion. It turns out that in one of those flukes of the international book market, the quirky mysteries of English eccentric G. K. Chesterton have quite a following in Russia.

The setting for the story is however, a long way from Moscow. It is a bleak London guesthouse where a range of long term tenants are collectively miserable and directionless. A man, who is identified as one Innocent Smith appears in the garden, accompanied by a great wind. Within pages of his entry, he has induced declarations of love between other tenants, set up an autonomous High Court to deal with the business of the house and arranged to elope with the young companion of one of the house’s inmates. Happiness appears to explode over the house and the jaded and misanthropic feelings of the past are no more. Needless, to say, the story does not end there. Before long two doctors arrive with accusations against “Innocent” Smith that would make anyone raise an eye. Burglary; Desertion of Wife; Bigamy; Attempted murder: the man’s crimes appear to be legion. Is he mad or is he dangerous or is there a mysterious method in his history?

This was not the easiest of book club books to get into. It is a little heavy going due to the language and it is not always simple to work out who is speaking at any one time. It is however, quite funny and deals surprisingly and with a certain surrealistic sanity with the human need for happiness and contentment. What is even better, it can be read online here.

Although it was not a favourite read, the ruminations of one of its female characters on what makes the ideal man spawned a classic book club discussion. It seemed to us that GKC’s message was that to be happy one ought to choose a man with a hobby (however strange, and goodness me, you will find that Innocent Smith’s are strange) so that he isn’t forever hanging around the house. Encouraging.

I spot of googling has uncovered the exciting additional news that there is a film adaptation in postproduction. The latest is here. From the Business School Wives Book Club, goodbye for now.


  1. This does seem like an odd choice for your book club-very considerate of you to provide a link to online reading availability-I found your review very interesting

  2. I have never read any of Chesterton's works but this short story seems like a good place to start. Thanks a lot of sharing the link Hannah!

  3. Sounds intriguing. A bit like one of those that are worth the read, but not necessarily a great pleasure to get through. I'll have to look into it.

  4. A very unusual choice, Hannah. But that's what's good about book clubs, isn't it? You get to read things you may not otherwise.

  5. This doe sound like quite an unusual book, but also very interesting to me. I had not heard of it, but I do want to take a closer look at it now. I am also excited to see that it is available online to read. That makes the chances that I will read it increase ever so slightly!! Great review, Hannah! It sounds like you have a wonderful book club going on over there!!

  6. I havent read his books but your review sounds intriguing. I like the guest house and tenants idea. All different souls together! Thanks for highlighting this.

  7. Thank you all for your kind comments.

    Hope that you are all enjoying your reading weeks!


  8. Chesterton has an individual voice. I've meant to read more of him.

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