The Senility of Vladimir P by Michael Honig

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The Senility of Vladimir P by Michael Honig

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Stephen Leach
Reviewed by Stephen Leach
Summary: An absurdist story set twenty minutes into the future, featuring the mental decline of the most powerful man in Russia.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Atlantic Books
ISBN: 978-1782398066

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In the not-too-distant future, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is slowly succumbing to dementia, hidden from the world at large in a secluded private nursing home. Nikolai Ilyich Sheremetev has what sounds like the most difficult job in the world: he's the old man's nurse.

His motley collection of colleagues are hard at work as well: trouble is, they're more concerned with lining their own pockets, skimming money off the top and pilfering profit any way they can. All of this passes Sheremetev by, however: he's far too honest to even consider such things. But how long can one man stay straight, when everyone around him is crooked?

The premise of The Senility of Vladimir P seems like the sort of funny idea that comes to you after one too many drinks, but one which Michael Honig has worked into a full novel. Leaving aside the suspension of disbelief required to accept the premise – that the only honest man in Russia could become Vladimir Putin's nurse purely by chance – it works. It's a setting that doesn't need a great familiarity with Russia to understand, and there's a fair few stereotypes on show: (fun game: try reading What fuckery! in a Russian accent and not being amused) excessive vodka-drinking, foul-mouthed chefs, hired goons, and idealistic young political radicals who inevitably get imprisoned for daring to call out the way things are. As anyone could have guessed, once things eventually turn sour, Sheremetev is forced to wrestle with the choice of abandoning his noble principles and sinking into the murky depths of bribe-taking and double-crossing that characterizes Putin's Russia.

What really makes this book shine is the time it devotes to examining up close the titular ex-President of Russia. It explores everything that makes (made?) Putin Putin: his ultra-macho image – still strong even in his old age – his peculiar superstitions and prejudices, his unyielding political views and his arrogant sense of entitlement. Dementia is a clever way to explore a character, and Honig skilfully depicts just how dreadful and distressing the day-to-day reality of such a thing can be, even for someone so objectively awful.

I liked the concept of The Senility of Vladimir P, but found myself more than a little let down by it. The book spends a lot of time ruminating on the theme of corruption, but winds up not actually having all that much to say about it other than corruption's bad, mmkay. There's not much of a sense of actual consequence for any of the characters involved; the few bad things that do happen all occur off-page and thus have little emotional impact. The ending, too, fell totally flat on me; I don't think I've ever read anything so anticlimactic.

The back cover of the book advertises it as '…a vodka-soaked tragicomedy.' It's very nearly accurate, but I'd have to squint very hard to consider The Senility of Vladimir Putin anything close to even half a comedy. What fuckery! aside, I can't remember laughing even once while reading this.

I will say this for the book, though. It managed to do something I truly wasn't expecting, and that was make me feel anything even approaching sympathy for Vladimir Putin. I'll give it three stars just for that.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag for review. We also have a review of Goldblatt's Descent by Michael Honig.

If you're inspired by this and want to read up on other political leaders, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama might interest you (it's non-fiction). For people that prefer fiction, but are still interested in stories with a taste of real life, you might enjoy Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin.

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Buy The Senility of Vladimir P by Michael Honig at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Senility of Vladimir P by Michael Honig at


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