The London winter of 1947. As cold as St Petersburg during the Revolution. The Karenins keep their vodka under the layers of snow in their suburban garden, in bottles entombed like their Russian past. But when a young Frenchwoman arrives to work as a companion to the aged 'Monsieur Ka' he begins to tell his story.
[A] subtle and deeply intelligent novel ... Monsieur Ka refuses to be an homage to Anna Karenina. Instead, it tries to reimagine the characters of Tolstoy’s novel as real people who could have been its prototypes ... The premise is simple and intensely engaging ... [a] delightful literary tangle ... Still, the richest and the most wonderful aspect of Monsieur Ka is not its literary gaming but rather its incessant attempts to make the reader question reality. All these fictional, factual, defictionalized, refictionalized layers allow Monsieur Ka to capture that elusive feeling every serious reader has experienced at some point: what if our lives are less real and not more real than the lives of literary characters? ... This question stays with you long after you put down Monsieur Ka.
The question for writers returning to works of literature from the past is what to do about style ... In Monsieur Ka, there’s a more aesthetic engagement with the Russian novel, but this isn’t just homage or pastiche because the nature of linguistic translations and dislocations is itself a theme of the book. Goldsworthy, who is writing in her third language, is attentive to the way that thoughts and gestures are inflected by the language in which they are formulated ... Much of the pleasure of reading this remarkable novel comes from its passionate dedication to the power of stories.
Monsieur Ka is more than a sophisticated 'what happened next?' exercise. Goldsworthy is an elegant writer, skilful at building atmosphere. Her fiction-within-fiction device is clever and intriguing ... Not all the threads of the story are satisfactorily wound up, but between its setting of relentless winter and the intrigues of exiled Russians, the novel could hardly seem more of the moment.