The Man from St. Petersburg

The Man from St. Petersburg by Ken Follett

While I was wallowing in ennui last winter, I noticed a discrepancy between female authors versus male authors on my reading C.V. The truth of the matter is: I don’t read enough MAN books, i.e. books written by men for men.  Armed with my library card and a steely determination to broaden my horizons, I ventured into MAN book territory. There will be blood! And gadgets, doo-hickeys, submarines, techno-jargon, and espionage involving the U.S.S.R.  I can’t say that I was thrilled to embark on such a macho reading mission but I’ll be damned if I was going to shrink away from a chance to raise my testosterone level.

The Man from St. Petersburg contains 1) Russia 2) War time espionage 3) Doo-hickeys 4) Politics 5) A sly Winston Churchill. When I discovered that it took place in pre-WWI Britain and involved well-bred ladies and fancy balls, I crossed myself that this was MAN book lite and not hardcore Tom Clancy.

So the ‘Man’ in question is Feliks, a feral anarchist turned political assassin. His target is a Prince Orlov, the czar’s nephew. Prince Orlov is on super-secret assignment in England to sign a treaty binding Russia as England’s ally in the event of world war. If England fights, Russia fights. But that would mean the senseless slaughter of a million Russian peasants in a rich man’s war. Feliks does not approve! Solution: Prince Orlov must die!

What follows is so much action that it leaves my ass in traction. Feliks spends most of his time reconnoitering Orlov’s haunts, taking ‘eye photographs’ of his adversaries, strategizing the best way to snuff out his target, stealing bicycles, and clobbering people over the head with large blunt objects. There’s also rooftop chases aimed gunfire from policeman who can’t shoot straight. In one instance, Feliks pitches a bomb at the police and everyone kind of stares in wide-eye terror as the bomb sails in slow motion until someone catches the bomb and scores one for the good guys. High fives all around!

While this book thrilled me in ways I never though I could be thrilled, I do have beef with Follett’s portrayal of female characters in that they were wussies and performed such cringe-worthy actions as balling their hands into fists and biting their fists. No woman would do such a thing. When I’m upset, I crack my knuckles and punch a clown. When saddened, I square my shoulders, stand up tall, and stare off into the distance like any strong woman would do in times of sorrow. I do not, nor have I ever, bite my fist and throw a hissy fit over my empty laudanum bottle. I think I speak for my gender when I say: WTF, Follett? WTF indeed.

B+.

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6 thoughts on “The Man from St. Petersburg

  1. I’ve only been reading your blog for the last 6 months or so, but love it–especially when you’re talking hist. fic. Ken F’s portrayal of women in Pillars of the Earth (written just a few years later than The Man…Well, published just a few years later!) and the sequel World w/o End is so different. My favorite man books are by Steve Berry, but I don’t read them before going to bed because they can tie my stomach in knots!

  2. Thanks Kathleen!

    I tried Pillars of the Earth on two separate occasions but couldn’t get through it. Maybe it was the bulk, or writing, or detailed architectural descriptions… The Man From St. Petersburg was a much more engaging read, in my opinion. The other MAN book I read last winter was The Godfather. Doesn’t get more manly than that! Happy reading!

  3. Thanks, T. Y., for your kind words. Of course I remember you (though the photo in my mind is much older than the one you’ve posted), and all the others as well.

    I’m enjoying reading your little corner of the world here: I stumbled across it a couple of years ago, but never bookmarked. Your humor is the biggest delightful surprise to me: that fourteen-year old girl I knew played her cards so close to the vest, though I knew there were whole expanding universes in that head.

    I’m glad you found my blog amusing. Of course, I’m delighted when anyone visits & leaves a comment. I know Mr. Geddy reads, and we’ll chat about whatever topic I post weeks later, but he never comments on the blog. It’s odd, writing for audience, but not really expecting one. It’s like the joke about the man who went around his house naked, except or a top hat, in case someone should visit. My blog is mostly in lieu of therapy.

    Enough chatter. Take Care, and maybe I’ll be lurking around. J. C.

  4. Mr. Coulter!

    Why yes, even as an 8th grader, I was developing my poker face. Also, I have never worn a vest…unless you count that Chandler-from-Friends-inspired sweater vest I wore in your class as we read The Giver. It kept my torso warm while my arms took the brunt of Room 108’s air conditioning.

  5. Do you think men wonder the same thing about the way women write male characters? I mean they are very frequently insensitive, arrogant and clueless in books written by women. Wait a minute! That’s the way they really are, isn’t it?!

  6. Lisa: That’s assuming that men read books by women authors. Don’t get me wrong, some men do, but I’m going to go on a limb and say that most of them like MAN books. Remember the old saying: “Men won’t read books written by a woman while women will read anybody.”

    I always thought women write very sensitive, charming, and humorous men. The ‘dream man.’ See Mr. Darcy and Jamie Fraser. Maybe women write men who are too good to be true?

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