31 Shots of Shock: #31 – ‘The Fountain House’ by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

31 Shots of Shock *Title: The Fountain House by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Date Read: 31 October 2009
Available Online?: YES (courtesy of The New Yorker)
Briefly: Following an explosion on a bus, a mother and father are told that their fifteen-year old daughter, despite showing no outward signs of injury, has passed away. With the body of their daughter taken off to hospital, the grief-stricken father decides to steal her back, rather than have her face the indignity of an autopsy.
Afterthoughts: Sometimes a story doesn’t seem to have any rhyme nor reason, and for me The Fountain House is one of those such stories. This is not to say that the story isn’t any good. It’s beautifully written (even in translation), and for the most part totally engaging. I was just left wondering in the end what it was all about; aside from perhaps a single, solitary tenuous purpose. Fanning the fog of ambiguity to one side though, on the strength of this story alone I would definitely read more of Petrushevskaya’s writing. So that’s got to be a good result.
Notable Quote: She seemed to be alive, as she lay on the stretcher, but she had no pulse, nor was she breathing. Her parents were told to go home, but they wouldn’t; they wanted to wait for the body, though procedures still had to be followed—the autopsy performed and the cause of death determined.

Rating: ★★★½☆

*Story read as part of my 31 Shots of Shock reading challenge.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).


  1. Thank you for this nice write-up, Rob. I think Petrushevskaya–who sometimes calls herself “the Russian Stephen King”–would be very pleased to see she’d made the 31 shots of shock. (I’m her translator.)

    If you’re not all shocked out, there’s a whole book of her stories just out from Penguin… I understand what you mean about that story being confusing, it’s one of a whole cycle of stories of people coming back from the dead, I think it might make a bit more sense as part of that. Anyway, here’s the Amazom link:


    Thanks again.


    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Oh my goodness it’s Keith Gessen! Nice of you to stop by Keith. You’ll be pleased I paid the translation a compliment too then :). Thanks for all of this extra information. I was aware that this collection from Ludmilla was out, and was planning on picking it up. This short story convinced me of that.

      It’s reassuring though to know that this story makes more sense when read as part of the ‘whole cycle’. I must admit the ambiguity put me off very slightly.
      Anyway take care Keith and thanks again for saying hi – it means a lot!

  2. Hey, Gr8 article…I have read the entire novel called”scary Fairy Tales-One There Lived A woman Who Tried To Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby”- it is as you said -the stories a beautifully written and translated, but ambiguous to the point that you tear out your hair trying to puzzle out the meaning of some of them.I have this book in Ebook format..If you are interested,email me, i will give you the link . I was particularly impressed by this story too-the book comes with a ‘not for the faint-hearted warning’!

    • Rob (Twitter: robaroundbooks)

      Hi Sherya,
      Thank for dropping by. Thanks for your very kind offer but I have a hard copy of Petrushevskaya’s collection. Trouble is, finding the time to get to it 🙂
      Warmest regards