Anna Matveeva

Zavidnoe chuvstvo Very Steninoi Vera Stenina's Envy
Novel. AST Publishers. Moscow 2015. 255 pages

In late January 2016 the run on the famous Russian impressionist Valentin Serov’s works at the ART EXPO MOSCOW resulted in a broken glass door in the entrance area. Russia has rediscovered its passion for art and it seems to be stronger than ever, commented Anna Matveeva.

In her new novel, the art historian engages with a highly explosive emotion: envy. Black-marked as one of the seven original sins, envy remains a powerful tool which accompanies our deepest wound. The way we painfully scrutinize what we seem to lack is described as a fascinating ingredient of our psyche, which bridges our ever so contradictory (inner) worlds.

Two women, Julia and Vera, will be friends for decades. They meet in high school, both give birth to one single daughter, and share a lifetime in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk, which will eventually turn into today’s Ekaterinburg. Matveeva elegantly weaves an account of everyday life in this more peripheral area into the heroines’ daily routine, loves and losses, a provincial society in times of major change. In order to highlight the personal changes that occur throughout their respective lives, she juxtaposes two particular days in every chapter – one taking place in the present and the other 20 years ago.

The core of the work remains the description of a relationship between two women who could not be more different: Julia, beautiful but somewhat ordinary, and Vera, who carries a unique talent inside of her but who is by no means attractive. It is Vera who secretly envies Julia, telling us about it with a fresh sense of self-irony and distance. Little does she know that her closest friend experiences the same pain, not having any particular gift to offer to the world.

A gift, because Vera is able to FEEL a painting. The perfume of the hair of a woman depicted. The inner melody of a piece of art. If it is fake, there will be no sound. She will use this talent successfully in the art industry. Eventually, she will be able to speak out to herself and reconcile her inner battles by confronting a painting called PORTRAIT OF VERA.