An Atomic Moo Book Review of Sergey Kuznetsov’s Cult Hit Novel

Hello El Moochoadores! Our book review this week is of Sergey Kuznetsov’s Russian cult classic; Butterfly Skin! Well, I say this week, but I think it’s been well over a month since my last review. D’oh. Anyways: Originally published in the 1990’s, Butterfly Skin has recently been translated to English and re-published in the United States by Titan Books.

Since finishing Butterfly Skin I’ve read a few other online reviews who refer to this novel as the Russian Silence of the Lambs, or even compare it to Stieg Larson’s Girl with the Dragon tattoo, but I disagree. Though it hits a level of sexual weirdness, and creepy savagery few other novels have obtained, Butterfly Skin lacked what ever intrigue, or charisma, brought to us by Larson and Harris in their novels, and instead offers readers a dull story sugar coated in violence.

In Butterfly Skin, Kuznetsov floats between the first, second, and third person narratives as he writes about the life of young internet journalist, Ksenia Inonova (is the “K” a “Z” sound in this one?). Ksenia works for a small online newspaper, but she soon hits a new level of fame when she creates a website about a Moscow serial killer and his horrific torture and executions of young women. Ksenia, a masochists with deep BDSM desires, soon finds herself in a relationship with the unknown killer via an ICQ (remember – 1990’s, unless Russia still uses ICQ(?)) chat. Ksenia and the killer, only known as Alien, then develop a strictly online, but very explicit, relationship based on domination and submission that ultimately leads to fatal consequences.

Though I found the book interesting for it’s many changes in tense (sometimes first person narratives by Ksenia, or the killer, other times Kuznetsov writes as if you are the characters and what is happening to you) Over all I found this book to be mostly boring and far too reliant on shock value. Grizzly murder, torture, and submissive sexual encounters are described in vivid detail (way, way too vivid detail), but the book takes a long time to get to any real plot points and resolves with an incredibly abrupt ending. Butterfly Skin also seemed to imply that the dark fantasies, like the ones enjoyed by Ksenia and the killer, are shared by everyone, and readers should be “stimulated” by the story. However; after many (many!) chapters of the Killers narrative of why he kills, and how, the expositions became dull and mostly just weird. Yes, the book gets a little weird. Though, when narrating as the killer, Kuznetsov does show some incredible talent for writing and a prime example of this can be found in the beginning of chapter twelve (page 83) where the author has the killer speak to us:

It is good to kill in winter. Especially if it has snowed overnight, and the ground is covered with a delicate blanket of white. You put the bound naked body on it. The blood from the wounds flows more freely in the cold frosty air, and the warmth of life departs with it. If you are lucky and she does not die too quickly, she will see the solid film of ice cover what was flowing through her veins so recently. Red on white, there is no more beautiful combination than that.

Creepy, weird… sure, but also vivid and well written. Through out Butterfly Skin, the killer will often talk in this manner and provide readers with an insight into his supposedly normal life. Well, as far as mass murderes go…
Overall though, Butterfly Skin just tries to hard to shock or provoke the readers. Yes, full of awful murders, and weird/kinky (almost sad) sex, but that’s just a thin veneer on a story that doesn’t really do anything. Expect maybe it teaches us a detailed history of the lives of serial killers, and that we really loved ICQ in the ’90’s. Is ICQ even around anymore?

Butterfly Skin is available in all major book stores now, or you can get your own copy online at titanbooks.com! Check out the books synopsis below!

A new psychological thriller that will take you into the dark depths of contemporary Russia.

Moscow is plagued with a series of gruesome murders. Ksenia, an ambitious young editor in the news department of a small but influential online journal decides to track down the serial killer, devising an elaborate website to entrap him and thereby boost her company’s profile. She soon realises, however, that her obsession with the psychopath reflects something more deeply disturbing: her own unconscious mixture of horror and fascination with the sexual savagery of the murders.

Through his riveting plot and singular characters, Kuznetsov explores the sometimes pathological fallout resulting from our instant connectivity in the emerging world of emails, facebook, twitter, and other forms of electronic “intimacy.” The novel has enjoyed a cult following in Russia.

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