...despite the book’s size and the headiness of the material it tackles, Marina’s unlikely bildungsroman — her growth, her loves, her dreadful losses and disappointments, but, above all, her enduring hope and determination to survive, against all odds — proves so gripping that it’s hard to put the book down ... n its most harrowing passages, The Revolution of Marina M. shows us the full extent of female vulnerability in chaotic times ... There is enough pain to go around in Fitch’s sprawling, majestic book, as people shed old identities like snakeskins ... At the end, Marina is left to confront the Russian Civil War almost completely alone??, and the modern reader — like the readers of Tolstoy’s and Dostoyevsky’s serialized novels — is left itching for the next installment.
The Revolution of Marina M. is an often exasperating, strange story of a spoiled, entitled aristocratic girl coming of age during the Russian Revolution. And yet, despite its narcissistic heroine and its meandering story, Janet Fitch’s novel shimmers with vital energy. The Revolution of Marina M. is a little bit silly, but it is also quite fun ... Marina is an infuriating character in a lot of ways: She is entitled and self-absorbed, a terrible friend and the maker of many bad decisions. And yet, after spending so much time with her, a reader would be hard-pressed not to like her. And that is what makes what happens to her over the course of the novel so disturbing. On the other hand, were these outlandish events meant to convey the terror of revolution? Or were they the product of a restive writer searching for a way to end her story? The sexual enslavement of Marina, in particular, stood out as problematic and marked a change in the flow of the story. What was the purpose of this detour? ... Many books, especially those requiring 800 pages of time from their readers, would be undone by the absence of a clear purpose. And yet, astonishingly, The Revolution of Marina M. is hard to put down. Like Marina, it is maddening and flawed. It makes a good many bad decisions. And yet it is charming and lively and, ultimately, worth the time.
Over the course of more than 800 pages, Fitch conveys the importance of sex for a young woman’s development with Rabelaisian earthiness ... Marina, the reader concludes, is not a true revolutionary; she is tossed like flotsam by great events, and the novel would benefit were she more of a participant ... In publicity materials, Fitch reveals her own lofty aspirations in her declared worship of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment: 'I opened it, and there was my world.' Yet somewhere in the middle of its 800 pages, this novel loses any semblance of her 19th-century forebear’s sense of narrative control. That said, the feral descriptions of sex provide some of the novel’s most amusing, if decidedly un-Dostoyevskian, moments.
In a pattern that will hold steady throughout the novel, Fitch sketches a portrait of this glittering, happy world that's rendered all the more vivid for being brief. In a handful of pages, revolutionary passions have found Marina and Varvara, sweeping them into the mass movements beginning to ripple across the country … This is Fitch's most powerful narrative, beautifully and propulsively written, dense with atmosphere and poetics … Every twist and turn of that civil war touches on Marina's life (or Varvara's, or Volya's) in some way or other as the book progresses, and although a fair number of these correspondences feel contrived, and although Marina in all her bathos is never half so interesting a character as supporting player Varvara, Fitch is nonetheless in fine, epic form in these pages.
The Revolution of Marina M. takes place from 1916 to 1919 in Petrograd, Russia, and is told by 16-year-old Marina, a fierce and artistic young woman and aspiring poet living a life of privilege among ‘the cream of the Petrograd intelligentsia’ … Fitch’s first-person narrative is intensely intimate, but Marina’s voice is unfocused and the plot meanders. Marina romantically imagines a photo album of how her life should look, but she often changes direction impulsively, which creates the sense of never knowing her at all. Her surroundings, however, are fascinating and horrifying … The author’s passion seems to reside not with the blizzard of shadowy and forgettable characters, but with Russia itself, exploring its intricate history and soul in good light and bad.
The Revolution of Marina M. does not make for quick reading. It restarts several times, following the ruptures in the protagonist’s life. So while there is plenty of action and drama, this is an epic narrative that depends very little on the traditional rewards of plot. Thankfully, Fitch is an excellent writer ... Each phase of her story builds on the last, and it’s a pleasure to see her develop, her core character strengthening as she tries on new roles, new identities, growing to adapt to her changing country.
The book is reasonably well-written and -researched, and Fitch’s quick-witted, resilient, redheaded heroine is no worse than any other quick-witted, resilient, redheaded heroine, but a book that is nearly 1,000 pages long—quite a bit longer than War and Peace, gaining on Infinite Jest—needs more than linear storytelling. What’s the point? It’s never clear, and the ending, which abandons earlier plotlines and characters, throws in a pregnancy, and then just trails off into the snow, is no help at all. Nor is a brief prologue set in 1932 in Carmel by the Sea, California. Clearly, a great deal of hard work and passion for the subject went into the writing of this book—but its length may daunt readers.
The resilient Marina has much in common with the modern heroines of the author’s previous books and is a protagonist worth following. However, even though the book is well researched, the overlong narrative peters out.