Review from a Transgressive Fiction Fan
More or less a novel, this book is also an allegory. Like Moby Dick, there are probably a dozen interpretations that can be given to it. The extensive local color comes from Moscow in the early Twentieth Century. (The author wrote and revised it from 1929 to 1940). The main plot centers around a crowd of Russian literati – authors, theater goers and hangers-on, particularly one older world-weary author (the Master) and his beautiful young girlfriend (Margarita). The devil and his sidekicks come to town and a lot of evil doings ensue. (If this were a modern Latin American novel, we would call it magical realism.) Interspersed with the Moscow chapters is a mini historical novel that the Master is writing about Pontius Pilate and his agony over his decisions leading to the Crucifixion. Given that the Soviet Union in this era was promoting atheism, closing churches and persecuting religious folks, the main thesis seems to be summed up as follows: “Surely the devil is real, and if so, there must be a God.” Like Dante, in his Divine Comedy, the author uses his work to settle old scores with critics and censors. I wouldn’t say that it’s a book that I couldn’t put down, but the plot moves and it kept my attention. One thing that struck me is that Moscow was “behind-the-times” apparently, and much of the plot felt like it was set in the late 1800’s. But then a phone would ring or someone would arrive by plane and it jarred me back to the proper era.
“Insightful” Review from a Mainstream Reader
This might be the worst novel I have ever read, I spent many wasted hours wading through information irrelevant to the plot so I kept losing track of what was going on. Bulgakov’s use of characters was disappointing to say the least. I mean come on! He had Satan, a giant talking cat, a naked woman etc and the best he could do with them was a few mild tricks of deception. It was a very tame romp through Moscow! The style of narration was not my cup of tea at all.