My first impression of this book.
When I first saw this book, I noticed there was an image of a large house on the front cover. This looked to me like the style of mansion that can be found in many novels written by British authors. These sort of houses are normally the setting for stories about English aristocrats who get themselves involved in some sort of adventure during the course of the story. In this sort of story there is normally a large group of people getting together for a weekend break or a party or some sort of event, and then somebody either gets murdered , goes missing, or their jewellery gets stolen.
So I was very surprised to see that this book was nothing like the sort of book that I thought it was. In fact, the story does not happen in an English country house, or in England at all. This story takes place in America at the start of the global pandemic.
This story takes place in Upstate New York during March 2020 . This is when the first lockdown is put into force. Our Country Friends tells how a group of friends, and friends of friends decide to spend this first lockdown together in the home of their host and hostess. They are to be together for the next six months.
So right from the start we know that this is going to be a story about people rather than some big adventure. But people can be interesting and the more outrageous they are, the more interesting the story will be. This story does include some really interesting characters.
Alexander Senderovsky , also known to his friends as Sasha is a Russian immigrant , a writer, a teacher and landowner. He is in his forties, married with a young daughter. Sasha and his wife are the owners of the property where the characters in the story will be staying. They own the big house and several bungalows on the same stretch of land.
Everybody knows that Sasha likes his drink a bit too much . During the story he starts to show signs of failing health and he also begins to do strange things.
Masha Levin Senderovsky
Masha is the wife of Alexander Senderovsky, she is also a psychiatric doctor. She has taken on the roll of being like a `mother' to the guests and in the early days of the story she is very aware of staying safe from the virus. It is Masha who has to keep reminding people to stay two metres away from each other and wear masks until they are all sure that none of them have brought the virus with them.
Natasha is the eight year old daughter of Sasha and Masha. She likes to be known as Nat. Sasha and Masha adopted Nat after she had spent some of her early life in an orphanage. Nat is of Asian origin and she is very much aware that there are differences between her and her parents.
She is a bit of a tomboy and is often mistaken for a boy. Nat is very much into K Pop and spends a good deal of her time listening to and watching boy bands. She is also very intelligent for her age and her parents think she is suffering from some anxiety disorders.
Ed is one of the first guests to arrive in the story , he is also known as a gentleman. He is single and he takes a liking to one of the female guests in the story and she seems keen on him too until something else gets in the way.
Vinod is a very old friend of Sasha , they go back to their youth and their student days. Unfortunately , Vinod has not always enjoyed good health, he became ill a few years ago and had to lose part of one of his lungs. This makes the other characters in the house very sympathetic towards him. Since his illness, he has been working as a short order chef in a relative`s restaurant.
Karen is another long time friend of Sasha. She is well known because she invented a dating app and made a lot of money from it. The app is called `Troo Emotions' which is spelt with two dots over each `O' in Troo. Although she is a successful business woman, we get the impression that Karen has not always been so lucky in her personal life. She does not have any children and her marriage went wrong. Throughout the story we get the impression that she is envious of Masha.
Dee is a writer and she used to be a student of Alexander`s. We get the impression that she is a lot younger than the other guests and she is also an attractive young lady.
This unnamed character is the last of the guests to arrive at the house. He is a bit of a mystery and all the other guests seem to be in awe of him. The actor is unmarried but he does have a girlfriend who is not staying with him through the lockdown. This does not stop him from trying Karen`s app which tries to pair him with one of the other guests.
Trouble with the plumbing
Although the bungalows where the guests were staying were well furnished, there was a serious problem with the plumbing. This is because the water was not running all the time and Masha had to leave buckets of fresh water for the guests to use. Not only was this an inconvenience but but led to a strange series of events with two of the characters.
It all started when one of the male guests was using some very strong shampoo and conditioner and the water ran out on him before he could rinse his hair properly. He yelled out as if he had hurt himself and one of the female characters went running in to see what was wrong . This all sounds innocent enough apart from the fact that he was stark naked at the time and made no attempt to cover himself .
The `missing' book
Some of the characters fancied themselves as becoming authors and some of them had attempted to write a book. One of the characters had written a book two decades ago but it was never published because it had been left in Sash`s care. For some reason Sasha had left this book in a box in his attic.
When the writer of the book said he wanted it back, Sasha said he had put it in storage and was unsure where it was. When the subject of this book came up later, Masha said she could remember seeing the box that contained the book and she knew she had seen it in their attic.
After worrying that Masha would get the book, Sasha decided to have it destroyed. He buried it in a groundhog`s hole on the grounds of his property hoping that the groundhog would eat it. Unfortunately Sasha was seen by his daughter digging around in the groundhog hole. This led to yet another strange series of events when Nat and one of the guests went to find out what he had been doing.
My opinion of the book.
I enjoyed reading Our Country Friends because it is somewhat different to the books that I normally read. I found the characters very entertaining , and the more eccentric the character, the more interesting it made them. Before now I had not read any other book written by the author, but I will be looking out for his books in the future.
More books by the author
Our Country Friends was written by Gary Shteyngart who has written several other books including
- A Hero of Our Time
- Super Sad True Love Story
- Lake Success
- Little Failure