This is a disappointing book, though because it has been so long awaited (Hingley is a renowned Chekhov specialist) and because it tells us more about the great playwright's life--in details, at least--than any other previous attempt, it will be generously received. Here we learn the last word on a number of matters: that Chekhov effectively used ""nerve-warfare"" to prevent his beloved sister from marrying a particular suitor; that literature was his ""mistress"" and the practice of medicine his ""legal wife""--an arrangement that kept him tantalizingly industrious but also fretful and morose; that he had no great interest in women and may even have been, as Hingley gingerly puts it, ""somewhat undersexed""; that his marriage to a spiritedly neurotic actress in the last years of his life--he died at 44--was frequently interrupted, either by his illness or her career; that he mysteriously kept refusing to acknowledge his own tuberculosis; that he was ""unreliable"" in meeting literary deadlines; that he was kind, wise, and endlessly elusive, indeed at times ""evasive to the point of causing unnecessary suffering."" And so on. Hingley minutely covers the genesis and flowering of all the plays and many of the short stories and letters. But the style of his writing--both flaccid and jaunty--is tiresome. The critical judgments are venturesomely banal (""In countless variations, both fictional and dramatic, he studies illusions destined sooner or later to be shattered against the trivialities of everyday life""), and the psychological probings, full of self-congratulatory assumptions about Chekhov's motivations, unconsciously resemble, at times, Nabokov's parody of the ""scholar"" who writes the bogus preface to Lolita. Still, an exhaustive appraisal, every nook and cranny of Chekhov's existence dully growing in its pages.