the guardian Sat 15 November 2008
Blinis, devils, toddlers and talking crows all feature in this collection from a writer still learning his trade. There are sketchy caricatures and inconclusive fragments, but also hints of greatness. Has anyone ever conveyed a sense of the irretrievable with such economy and compassion as Chekhov? Details carry enormous freight. A glance, a whisper, an overhasty letter; even a misplaced punctuation mark can signify a world of social nuance, humiliation and regret. Chekhov's characters have a sharp sense of the irrevocable past, but in the two versions of "A Little Joke" we see him reworking their lives as they can never do, moving from youthful exuberance to an obliteration of the self. And in the intensely moving "Grief" (a useful primer to his late masterpiece, "The Bishop"), a bereaved father's "immense and boundless" sorrow "has managed to squeeze into such a minute receptacle that you would not be able to see it in brightest daylight". Illuminated by genius, the incommunicable becomes achingly visible.