The tales in each chapter are analysed by means of five major Formalist categories: Narrative Structure, Point of View, Fabula and Sujet, Characterisation and Setting. This process highlights many of Shalamov’s ideas and motifs in the tales. He frequently uses techniques of estrangement and paradox to augment camp experience, reflecting his belief that there is no moral, emotional or spiritual gain in suffering. He habitually employs a ‘focaliser’ to tell the tale from a near-death perspective and in consequence distances the author from events. His literary background is prominent within the tales, where he occasionally alludes to earlier Russian authors and their works to indicate the recurring nature of Man’s fallibility against the Gulag background. His characters are often simply portrayed yet representative of flawed heroes and the baseness of human beings subjected to an existence in extremis. His settings are minimal, yet form a major part of his message: Man is compared to nature, but nature is powerful and able to regenerate itself, whereas Man’s existence is temporary and futile.
This book therefore, shows that the Formalist approach is indeed still valid as a literary tool of analysis as well as showing that upon the 50th year of Stalin’s death, Varlam Shalamov’s time has arrived.