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Literature / All the World's a Stage

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All the World's a Stage is a 2009 Russian mystery novel by Boris Akunin.

It is the 12th novel in the Erast Fandorin mystery series. The book finds Fandorin back in Moscow in 1911, now 55 years old, having a Hollywood Midlife Crisis. He is badgered into investigating what seems like a trivial case regarding a nervous, jittery actress from the Noah's Ark theatrical troupe. The case becomes a lot less trivial when someone tries to murder the actress via a snake hidden in a bouquet of flowers, and less trivial still when her male co-star in the troupe is also murdered. The actress, Eliza Altairsky-Lointaine, suspects her estranged and maniacally jealous second husband, Iskander.

Fandorin is intrigued by the case but also motivated by more personal reasons. Eliza the actress bears an eerie resemblance to his late wife, also named Eliza, who was killed 35 years before (way back in Fandorin #1, The Winter Queen). Fandorin realizes that he is falling in love, and must struggle with his desire for an actress half his age while also struggling to stay focused on the case and catch the killer.

The English translation of All the World's a Stage was released in 2017, six years after the previous translation, The Diamond Chariot (Fandorin #10). Fandorin #11, short story Jade Rosary Beads, was skipped.


  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Fandorin and Eliza finally make these to each other in the last chapter, after a whole book of Cannot Spit It Out.
    "I have loved you all this time," Eliza exclaimed immediately with tears in her eyes. "I love you madly and desperately."
  • Beard of Sorrow: Fandorin, usually the immaculately groomed dandy, has a little bit of a breakdown after Eliza breaks up with him. He goes two weeks without combing his hair, he grows a scraggly beard, and he develops circles under his eyes.
    Mephistov: You used to be like a picture from a ladies' magazine.
  • The Bus Came Back:
    • Subbotin, Fandorin's pupil from 20 years ago and The State Counsellor, is the investigating officer for Limbach's murder.
    • Senka, the teenaged urchin from He Lover of Death appears towards the end of the novel. It turns out that he is Shustrov's business partner.
  • Call-Back:
    • Fandorin idly thinks about how it's been 35 years since his wife was murdered. This grows more relevant when shortly afterwards he becomes smitten with an actress who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife.
    • When evaluating a crime boss's home office and how to get in, Fandorin thinks that while it won't be easy, the office is "no Plevna fortress".
    • Fandorin contemplates how he's twice fallen in love and it's twice ended in tragedy. Those are references to The Winter Queen and The Diamond Chariot (although, unbeknownst to Fandorin, his lover from that book didn't die).
  • Call-Forward:
    • Fandorin motivates himself to learn German because he believes that war with Germany is inevitable.
    • Fandorin believes that the wobbly Russian empire will inevitably topple now that Prime Minister Stolypin, the best chance for constructive reform, has just been assassinated.
    • Shustrov, the patron of the Noah's Ark troupe, talks about how the days of individual theatrical impressarios are finished, and that in the future entertainment will be dominated by conglomerates.
  • Central Theme: The central theme of the whole series, the decay and decline of Tsarist Russia, is returned to again. Fandorin regards some kind of revolution as inevitable, and later thinks of the Russian state as "half-blind and rather stupid."
  • Comforting Comforter: Fandorin, who has hit on the idea of writing a play as a means to Eliza's heart, falls asleep at his desk while composing. His loyal servant Masa puts a blanket over him.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Cornet Limbach is found in a pool of blood, having written the letters "Li" before dying. Subverted when it turns out he didn't; the letters "Li" were a Red Herring left behind by the killer.
  • Edgy Backwards Chair-Sitting: When Fandorin believes he has made the breakthrough deduction and gets excited, he sits down in a chair like this. Subbotin, the police detective sent to help him, follows his example.
    "The investigators were like two mounted knights at a crossroads."
  • Happy Ending:
    "Essentially, whether she was acting or not was not really important. Erast Petrovich was happy, unconditionally happy. And now come what may."
  • Intro Dump: Shustrov's first meeting with the actors of the Noah's Ark troupe serves to introduce most of the supporting characters to the reader.
  • Japanese Ranguage: A Running Gag with Masa throughout the series, it's used a little differently in this installment. The other actors in the troupe make fun of Masa's accent and Fandorin gets irritated.
  • Literary Allusion Title: This story set in the theatrical world borrows the famous quote from As You Like It.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Nonarikin's unrequited love for Eliza drives him into madness.
  • Love Makes You Stupid: After drawing an entirely wrong conclusion and nearly getting killed in a confrontation with a suspect that turns out to be innocent, Fandorin reflects on how falling in love has thrown him off his detective game. Throughout the novel he is uncomfortably aware that his passion for Eliza is distracting him from his work as a detective. As it happens, Fandorin falls for a fake alibi and doesn't put the pieces together until the killer reveals himself.
    "Erast Petrovich yielded to gloomy thoughts about how he had frittered away his detective skills and how remarkably stupid being in love had made him."
  • May–December Romance: 56-year-old Fandorin with an actress half his age.
  • Medium Blending: In-Universe, the theater troupe's staging of the play Poor Liza starts with a filmed prologue. Everybody at the theater is bowled over by this effect.
  • Milestone Birthday Angst: The opening recounts how Fandorin started to panic after his fiftieth birthday. He reacted in typical Fandorin fashion, by becoming even more awesome (learning a new language every year, learning tightrope walking, learning to fly an airplane, etc).
  • New Media Are Evil: Fandorin thinks the "cinematograph" will render the theater obsolete.
  • Not With the Safety On, You Won't: Eliza tries to kill Genghis Khan with the pistol given her by Nonarikin, but fails, because she didn't know about the safety catch.
  • Numerological Motif: The theatre troupe's book keeps getting updated with cryptic messages saying that there are so many "1s" until the benefit performance. Fandorin is stumped, until the end, when he realizes it's a reference to the moment where there will be eleven ones in the time and date: 11:11, 11-11-1911. That's when Nonarikin—Nonarikin being the "nine" in that date—will explode his bomb.
  • Picked Flowers Are Dead: With a heavy dose of symbolism. Shustrov gives Eliza a rose preserved in gold. A bit later, after he explains his plans to turn the theatrical troupe into a movie ensemble, Eliza objects passionately. She says that theater is alive and films are dead, just like the flower has been preserved but is still dead anyway.
  • Renaissance Man: Always true of Fandorin but carried to an absurd extreme in this installment, where Fandorin reacts to turning fifty by learning a new language every year, learning to fly an airplane, learning how to juggle, building his own submarine...and later, in the course of his investigation, he writes a play.
  • Show Within a Show: Fandorin's play, "Two Comets in a Starry Sky", which is actually included in its entirety as an appendix to the book.
  • Strictly Formula: In-Universe. Director Stern admits that writing plays based on the same ten archetypes is the key to his success. He even has a permanent cast, each of whom exactly matches one of said archetypes (including himself).
  • Switching P.O.V.: Bounces back and forth between the POV of Erast Petrovich and Eliza.
  • Theatre is True Acting: Set in 1911, it decries the "cinematograph" as the death of acting, as it cheaply immortalizes an art that should be transient.
  • Title Drop: "Stern loved to repeat Shakespeare's phrase: 'All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.'"
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: Shustrov asks Eliza to marry him, basically as a business transaction. When she asks if he loves her, the rather robotic Shustrov says "To be honest, I don't know what people mean when they talk about love." He then explains that he wants to marry her to make the movie company bigger.
  • Yellowface: In-Universe. Eliza plays a Geisha in Fandorin's play.