The Devil comes to Stalinist Moscow, with his band of associates, consisting of a mischievous assistant and a feisty black tom cat. It is not long before people are dying, disappearing and ending up in institutions for the mentally ill. Margarita is a Moscow citizen who is searching for her lover ‘the Master’, who has disappeared in Moscow after being depressed. But in order to find the only person who matters in her life, she will have to deal with dark forces who are much stronger than she is. Interwoven into the story is the tale of Pontius Pilate, who is the subject of a novel which the Master has written. However, the rejection of his novel by publishers led to his misery and despondency with his life.
I enjoyed this novel a lot, and I can understand why it is hailed as a masterpiece. The Devil (who here is called Woland), and his companions Koroviev, Behemoth, Hella and Azazello are extremely colourful characters and Koroviev and Behemoth (the tom cat) provide much in the way of laughs during the story. Margarita is also a beautifully drawn character, trapped in a unhappy marriage, while pining for her one true love.
I liked the way that events would take a sudden and totally unexpected turn, sending the reader down an entirely different road than the one which they started out on. There is almost a carnival atmosphere surrounding the actions of the perpetrators, and it’s hard not to to be entertained by them (some of the scenes involving Behemoth made me laugh out loud).
I honestly had no idea how the story would end, and when it came, the ending was a surprise, yet very fitting for the story which preceded it.
This book could be read on many levels; it can be read simply as a carnivalistic romp through a former time, or on a deeper level, where I compare the Master’s rejected novel to be a sort of parallel with much of the literature which was written and banned at the time (Bulgakov himself had his work frowned on by the authorities). Either way, there is much to enjoy here, and this is a book that I can well imagine re-reading at some point in the future.