Reviews of Final Circle of Paradise, the (1965)
Review by ropie (2008-08-26)
'The Final Circle of Paradise' is Strugatsky writing at its most philosophical. From the outset the ideas are at the forefront with the story and characters very much carried by them, in places practically sidelined in favour of long political discussion.
The main thread of this philosophising seems to be that people should not allow themselves to become complacent with their thinking, nor ruled and kept by a system that they have no control over. Apparently this was a guiding belief of the Strugatsky's throughout a large part of their career and from what I have read of them it can be discerned in most of their novels. Make of it what you will, especially given the politics of the country at the times in which they were writing, but the main character in Final Circle, Ivan, is little more than a mouthpiece for these ideologies so the reader needs to at least bear this in mind whilst reading.
Back to the story, or what there is of it. Actually it is a fascinating premise. A garish seaside town somewhere in Europe that initially just seems to be slightly skewed towards nocturnal activity turns out to hide guiltier secrets: strange cults, debauched entertainment involving orgiastic revelling under flashing lights called 'shivers' and users of an intruiging electro-chemical drug combination called 'slug'. It sounds almost amusing and in places it comes close to being laugh-out-loud funny. Never at the expense though of the strange atmosphere of sad repression that inhibits the town and threatens, as the Strugatsky's put it, the human development of the population.
As I've said, the events are buried under numerous and lengthy character dialogues as this is the way in which the scant information is given to the reader. It would be easy to become disheartened reading this way, though it is better to go with the flow and accept that this is the way The Strugatsky's write. They play with the reader, only giving information in code and even then in unexpected places. In this sense it reminded me of a much more confusing version of Philip K Dick's 'Ubik' as the reader is never quite sure exactly what they are reading about or how it all fits together.
If it sounds like a tough read, it is. It can be read quickly as it is short and The Strugatsky's write extremely well (and the translation seems to be largely excellent, though I did wonder about one or two turns of phrase). However, it is a rewarding book as certain pieces of the puzzle do begin to fall into place closer to the end. Only with a re-read though would it give up more of its secrets and even then I'm not sure that all of the book was read to be understood, which to me at least adds to its intruiging charm.
By the way, the short blurb on this book describes the protagonist as being on 'vacation'. Don't let this fool you; you may be better served by realising from the outset that he is not on a vacation at all but has a tough assignment to fulfil, he is simply in a land of 'continuous vacation'.
You can download and read the entire novel here: http://www.rusf.ru/books/xussr_s/abs_e02.zip