‘Quadraturin’ by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated by Joanne Turnbull

I had to call in reinforcements to remember the title and author of this story, I had it in my head that it was by Yvegeny Zamyatin. I tweeted, ‘What is that Russian short story where the guy’s room keeps shrinking’ (details obviously not perfectly clear) and was steered in the right direction by a lot of good folks. I was taught this symbolist story in my undergrad and like Cortázar, it just got stuck in my brain. In it, a Soviet man is offered an experimental concoction that will make his ‘match-box sized’ room grow, but when he is smearing it on his walls he accidentally spills it and his room grows far bigger than he could have imagined. Every time he returns to his room, it is still bigger. This is a darkly funny story which encapsulates the duality of humanity. I think I remembered it, more than a decade later, for the same reasons certain scenes in Andrei Bely’s Petersburg and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita have stuck with me – this story shares with them a sort of visual slapstick humour that belies something much darker.

First published possibly circa 1920s, English translation collected in Memories of the Future, New York Review of Books, 2009. Available to read online at The Short Story Project, here