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Book Review

Thirty-one orgasms before Tomsk
Ian Mitchell

The Oligarch’s Wife
Anna Blundy
Arrow £7.99

eteran PASSPORT readers will finish this book wondering whether the author attended Deirdre Dare’s groundbreaking lecture entitled “Russian Men” which was reported in our January issue. The hero, Pavel Ivanchenko from Tomsk, confirms most of what Deirdre said about the problems Western women have in relationships with the typical Russian male, especially if he is rich.

Pavel’s rise from squalor to squillions follows a trajectory that has curious echoes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s. Both men are pursued by Mr Putin, who used the tax police to try to arrest Pavel in a blood-spattered Siberian shoot-out. But unlike Khodorkovsky, there is no political back-story here; no issues beyond sex and spending. This is more Joan Collins than Robert Harris.

Pavel gets married twice, the second and more important time to a former girlfriend who is a young English girl, called Mo, whom he met in Moscow when she was on a school trip and he was a rising young black-marketeer. Back in the city several years later, Mo finds the experience of dating Pavel exciting, at least when compared with her previous English boyfriends. “There was no sitting around watching videos and getting stoned.”

Pavel arrives for their dates bearing extravagant gifts. He takes her out to expensive restaurants in his chauff eurdriven car, complete with blacked-out windows and body-guards. He always opens doors for her “even if he has to rush round the car to do so”, and he will never “let her light her own cigarettes”.

After standing her up on one date, Pavel sends Mo a bucket of red roses. So far so good. But then he also sends her a bucket pink roses. Then a bucket of yellow roses. Then a bucket of white roses. And that was all before little Mo has left for work. This, the reader is forced to conclude, is a man with an ego problem.

After ten evenings and ten dates, Mo has received a ruby on a gold chain, a bottle of Yves Saint Laurent scent, a white mink stole that makes her look like Grace Kelly, and even more flowers. The only thing she has not received is a good seeing-to. Mo does not understand why. But that was before Pavel took her to Tomsk. The invitation is to spend the weekend in the hero’s hometown, tool about in the company Hummer, have a few saunas and generally chill.

Only after she boards the train, does Mo realise that Pavel has reserved an entire carriage for the two of them. They have hardly left the lights of the city behind when Pavel gets down on the floor to open a hamper too big to go on the table. The first thing he pulls out is a bottle of Moët. He does that with his hands, in the conventional manner, but when he wants to pull the cork out he uses his teeth. This forces Mo to confront his “extremely working-class Russianness”.

The champagne is followed by a jar of caviare, a pot of sour cream and a pile of pancakes—all huge of course. Thus fortified, for the next forty-eight hours it is nothing but sex, sex and more sex. After 31 orgasms, Mo loses count.

The whole Tomsk experience is as extravagant as that on the train so Mo, suburban English girl that she is (like the author), assumes that after this rite of passage she will be able to return to Moscow and, for the first time, be permitted to stay the night in Pavel’s flat. There she hopes to “eat crisps and watch the telly”. No such luck. They go straight back the formal dating routine that so puzzled her before she took the train to Tomsk. After a while, Mo asks when they are going to have sex again. Pavel replies, “Is that all you ever think about?”

Standing back from this bizarre scenario, the reader is naturally interested in why Pavel behaves as Miss Blundy describes. Unfortunately, no defi nite answer is given, which is a shame. But there are hints along the lines that Deirdre outlined in her talk. Although it is not stated explicitly, Pavel seems to be another mother-dominated Russian male who is overbearing, immature, insanely jealous and inwardly weak.

There is another woman in this story, Katya, who is Pavel’s first wife. She is a very beautiful Russian girl who started life as a prostitute and whom Pavel alternately used to beat up, mistreat, ignore and generally trample on—until she struck back. The plot hinges on the interaction between the two wives and their husband. I will say no more.

Anna Blundy has spent time in Moscow and knows the streets and layout of the city. But somehow the sense of the hinterland inhabited by Pavel’s cronies, gophers and family is less convincing. Having lived in Khimki for years, I am not convinced that “working- class Russians” are the violent, drunken thugs they are so often portrayed as being in popular Western fiction. Most seem to me too lazy to make really impressive villains.

There are a couple of worthwhile jokes in this book, like the word Mo uses for “Zdravstvuyti” when she first travels to Moscow on that school trip. She cannot remember that long Russian word, so she greets everyone by saying, with a smile, “Doesyourarsefi tyou”. Next time I meet Deirdre Dare I’ll try to remember that one.

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