The Bakhtin Chhronicles: Academia by Jane Riddell

And now, for something completely different.  A little satirical humour.

The Bakhtin Chronicles: Academia by Jane Riddell

‘My name is Alexis Zilya Bakhtin and I travel from Russia to Edinburgh to study experimental creative writing at renowned Fritzonian Institute.’

Meet Alexis Zilya Bakhtin.  He is the great-grandson of Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895 –1975).  Even I’ve heard of Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin: a Russian philosopher and literary critic, a scholar who worked on literary theory and the philosophy of language.  Given his heritage, it’s hardly surprising that Bakhtin has been accepted by the Fritzonian Institute.

‘When I applied from Moscow to study, I know I compete with many cats who wish to experience life in Western country.  I am delighted to be offered place and I work hard.’

Fortunately, Bakhtin’s English teacher in Moscow suggested that he keep a diary in English to practice his language skills.  As a consequence, we have this marvellous diary of his studying (and other experiences) for a period of two years.

Poor Bakhtin.  He finds literary theory difficult, as do some of his classmates.  Cindy the dachshund and Fleur the miniature schnauzer wear leotards to the lecture about Lyotard, and were ready to dance.   Bakhtin’s fellow students include Henry the guinea pig, and Oscar the clever chimpanzee from Bukina Faso.   Bakhtin shares a flat with twin brother cats Saussure and Notsaussure.  When they are joined by Neville the white mouse life becomes even more interesting.  Baktin is organised, though, he has a tartan shopping bag on wheels to take his books to and from the Fritzonian.

What more can I tell you about this book?  If you enjoy humour (with just a dash of satire, or maybe a bit more than a dash), if you can imagine animals trying to make sense of literary theory, the miracle of communication between Russia and Edinburgh using pieces of rusty pipe then this could be the book for you.  And, if you’ve ever wondered about the possibility of writing Japanese haiku without consonants, you are in good company.

I have to be in the right mood to read and enjoy satirical humour.  I was and I did.  Thank you, Ms Riddell.  I will never be able to look at tartan shopping bags on wheels or pieces of rusty pipe in quite the same way ever again.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith