SATAN’S BALL: The M&M Readalong Progresses

Well, Satan’s Ball did not disappoint me in the slightest and in fact kind of reminded me of the balls in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Do you think this book was an influence on Susanna Clarke?

(Y’all, I think Susanna Clarke is going to never write another book. That’s honestly what I’ve come to believe. She wrote one incredible book, we were so lucky to have it, and that’s all we get from her. Thanks, Susanna Clarke. Thank you for this gift.)

Woland and his crew even kick around our old pal Berlioz’s head (remember that?) for old times’ sake — not to mention, of course, that they trot out all the greats for Margarita to meet. Unfortunately, she has some mysterious aches and pains, which I guess shouldn’t be wholly unexpected if you are presiding at a hell-sponsored event, but apart from that she mostly sort of meets people like Caligula and a woman who smothered her own baby. After a few hours this gets kind of boring for her and she starts wishing instead of hanging out with all the hordes of hell, she could meet, like, some new, not-shitty people.

However, she takes her duties as hostess seriously and continues with what she’s been doing, and the afterparty turns out to be awesome. (For her. I was more lukewarm on it.) In a fairy-tale-like turn of events, Woland waits to see if she’ll ask for payment for her night of labor, and since she doesn’t ask for anything, he tells her she can ask for, well, anything. These are her wishes, in order:

  1. That the lady who smothered her baby can stop being given the handkerchief she used to smother the baby. Currently they give it to her afresh every night and it sucks. This is just straight really nice of Margarita.
  2. To have her lover, The Master, back with her. (ugh)
  3. To be returned to the basement apartment where she and the Master used to bang it out. And if you guessed that this becomes the occasion for more satire about the housing situation in Moscow, YOU ARE CORRECT.

Woland also unvampires Varenukha, like that was a thing we cared about. And frankly, at this point, I’m kind of starting to root for the Devil. He’s doing a lot of good in Moscow, like, I know he beheaded Berlioz for just basically being slightly pretentious, and he messed up that landlord’s life who barely did anything wrong. On the other hand, he’s also foiled several housing-related frauds, and now he’s done all this nice stuff for Margarita and the Master, including getting them all kinds of legal documentation that they need.

What I’m saying is that I’d be down for a sequel where Margarita joins Woland’s retinue and they go from town to town fucking shit up for people and foiling housing fraud.

But then guess what happens. Guess. It’s not housing-related satire. It’s the other thing that makes me want to punch Bulgakov in the nose.

YES YOU ARE CORRECT, we then get TWO GODDAMN CHAPTERS of the GODDAMN PONTIUS PILATE BOOK, like is that what anyone asked for, Bulgakov? Come on! I can accept that maybe contemporary Russians had an endless appetite for housing-related satire, but did literally anybody ever in the history of literature enjoy these Pontius Pilate chapters? I saw the next chapter was a Pontius Pilate one and this is some real footage of what came next.

THESE GOD DAMN PONTIUS PILATE CHAPTERS. I have never been so close to cheating on a readalong. There are two of them. Such, however, is my commitment to righteousness and truth — and also we had a short segment to read this week, almost as if some genius had planned the schedule that way on purpose because people get busy as the year draws to a close — that I read both of the damn chapters. In one of them, Pontius Pilate and his head spy try to figure out a way to protect Judas Iscariot from possibly being murdered. In the other, I feel like a dingbat for misunderstanding the previous chapter, because actually the plan all along was to kill Judas and cause a big scandal.

I guess these chapters are not as dull as the previous Pontius Pilate chapters. I GUESS. For your future reference, however, the correct ratio of Satan shenanigan chapters to Pontius Pilate chapters would have been — how many chapters are there total? — 33:0.

As always, thanks to Alice for hosting! Tune in next week on Halloween Day to experience with me the stunning conclusion of Bulgakov’s super-confusing classic, The Master and Margarita.

  • Nishita

    This is The Master and Margarita? I never would have wanted to read this book, but your blog posts are making this book sound super-intriguing.

  • Alley

    Clarke wrote that collection of short stories too, right? I mean, not another novel but something more from her. (I have had that book for years and have yet to read it.)

    I was going to say I’d be down for the sequel you described but then eeeeeeh, I dunno. Depends on how much satire about Moscow housing it includes. Though if the sequel contains the appropriate about of Pilate (0) then I could get on board with it.

    I sort of liked the first Pilate chapter, though I mostly liked how annoyed Pilate was with things and didn’t like when anyone else was speaking and since then it’s been all down hill. Except the dog named Banga. Not that he did anything, but just existing. That was cool.

    • Alice

      I was gonna say, she did that companion book. Which I have read, but I still have NOT finished Jonathan Strange.

  • Alice

    Confession, I did not finish the Pilate chapters. But I will. Yes.

    Also WE BOTH COMMENTED ON THE FAIRY TALE THING.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    As my eyes flashed over your post title in my feed I read “Satan’s Balls” and I thought, ok Jenny, we’re going there, this should be good! But then I realized my mistake. A bit disappointed but I still enjoyed your post 🙂

  • Chrisbookarama

    The Pilate chapters make me zzzzzzz.

  • JeanPing

    Yeah, those Pilate chapters were pretty bad.

  • Katy

    I loved the Pilate chapters, actually! I wonder if this has anything to do with the different translations, because I had the Glenny translation and found them sort of lovely and haunting. But then I also identified hard with Pilate, because I get migraines and it’s rare to find them accurately represented in fiction.

  • My boyfriend and I are re-reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell at the moment, and we were talking the other day about if/when Clarke will write another novel. And yeah, I think I feel the same way you do.

  • Care

    Pontinue. P-o-n-t-I-n-u-e, pontinue. To continue to ponder. (sorry, was thinking of a spelling bee when I was also trying to think up a definition.
    I need to read Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell.