ELKOST International Literary Agency

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Asystole, 2009

E-mail Print PDF

Rights sold to: Russia - VREMYA, World English - GLAGOSLAV PUBLICATIONS

2009 Znamya Literary Magazine Prize
Shortlisted for 2010 Russian National Literary Award ‘Big Book’

Oleg Pavlov. Asystole. Glagoslav PublicationsOleg Pavlov’s Oleg Pavlov. Asystole. VREMYA 2009, Russianovel Asystole (colloquially “cardiac flatline”) is a tough book. Its third-person narrative streams about a nameless boy-then-man in a state of torpor, or even anomie. Asystole’s narrative is sometimes jumpy and nervous with unexpected transitions between times, places, and characters, sometimes resting for many pages on seemingly unimportant episodes. The book is obviously affecting; the more you read, the more nameless guy’s miserable life sucks you in even as it repels you.

Some reviewers note that Pavlov’s nameless antihero is a modern-day superfluous man; others kick in a bit of Dostoevsky’s spiteful, diseased underground man, too. Novel’s protagonist is apparently a talented artist but, in therapy-influenced English, he doesn’t connect with other people. Or his own life, which inspires dread and fear. As he roughly says, “I have trouble living”. He muddles along, and nobody else in the book is very appealing, either. His father died when he was small, and nameless guy and his mother don’t get along very well. He and his girlfriend-then-wife meet when he is quite drunk; she escorts him home. She has her own drinking problems and screams things like “I hate you!” more than once. His uncle, a professor, is full of himself. But at least the other characters rate names.

Several characters, from nameless guy to the cat, have various heart problems; so “asystole” is a physical and metaphorical diagnosis and leitmotif of the novel. The protagonist feels unneeded and empty, enjoyment is short-lived, and friends are few. The diagnosis extends to much of society, too, particularly opportunists at a funeral home and hospital, unfeeling bureaucrats at the civil registry office, and so on.

Pavlov forces deeply into his characters’ problems and drags reader into the morass of nameless guy’s life, where all the main characters are so absolutely miserable. The author brings out the multifaceted inertness of their relationships with differing techniques: sometimes there’s no dialogue, sometimes there’s strange dialogue or monologue, and sometimes it seems that characters in the same place don’t interact.

Asystole is definitely a hard emotional hit. It’s a book to feel rather than reason with, though its effect is also impersonal: nameless guy is so specific in his misery and lack of hope that it’s easy to think his diagnosis doesn’t apply to others. Even though it could or does… Which is why Oleg Pavlov’s Asystole is a deeply depressing book, a real downer. Still, as another reviewer states, ‘you can feel the novel’s pulse beating’.


Oleg Pavlov claims that his Asystole is in great part inspired by writings of the famous French writer and philosopher Emil Cioran (1911-1995), noted for his somber works. ‘Cioran did not write novels, -- says Pavlov, -- but Asystole is surely the novel Cioran would have written. Or at least would wish to write. 

This text contains excerpts from the review published in Lizok's Bookshelf blog (http://lizoksbooks.blogspot.com)


The desire to die was my one and only concern; to it I have sacrificed everything, even death. (Emil Cioran)