The Bluebottle"", the first of these two Russian stories, is about a dry philosopher who kills a fly, and suddenly becomes aware of death, and life. But his own life is a hopeless muddle of officialdom and petty rebellions, muddily told, with few descriptions of people or place...an oppressive record of a floundering consciousness. ""Red and Black"", the second story, treats the same theme, but far more brilliantly and directly. It is told through private notes made (supposedly) by a Russian teacher of Western literature (chiefly of Stendhal) whose existence, love and search for meaning are constantly thwarted. His comments are striking and poignant insights, not only on a repressive culture but on the limits and repressions of human life itself. He ends by drowning himself. Often obscure, stifled, this book also has many splendidly written sections and is best where it speaks privately of universal emotions.