OK - I finally finished.
I liked this book but I did find it a struggle. I think the weirdness of the events particularly in the first half distanced me from the narrative somewhat. Perhaps this also partly due to the translation (I had a P&V copy).
There's so much scope for discussion in this book even in order to ask questions like - why is Ivan Nikolaevich referred to as a disciple towards the end? Should we draw some kind of parallel with Matthew Levi who gave up being a tax collector to follow Yeshua, much like Ivan gives up poetry to write the "sequel" to Pontius Pilate? Does this by implication draw a parallel between the Master and Yeshua?
This alone seemed fascinating to me.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, the story of Pontius Pilate is magnificent. For some reason I've always had a soft spot for Pilate and felt as though he had a depth to explore. I was so pleased to see this expand on a simple idea I've had for a long time. However, other than in stray ways (as in the questions above), I had trouble working out the significance of this story in particular to the ideals of the book.
For me, this book really seemed like a wish fulfilment of Bulgakov, masquerading as the Master, to be avenged (by dark forces if necessary) for any slights he had received at the hands of the Russian literary/arts elite (and those managing rental properties). I was aided in my hypothesis by the footnotes as I read, although I didn't bother reading the introduction.
The other feeling I had was that there was some subtle criticism of communism, or at least of the people supposedly embracing it. I think in communism that people are supposed to turn their noses up at the idea of wealth and luxury, but on every occasion the trouble makers in Woland's party show that people will make a grab for both money or luxury items (expensive fashion) at the earliest opportunity. It almost seems like Bulgakov is painting the Russian people as frauds of communism.
The other thing that interested me is the presence of the 'nut house' in this novel. For some reason the clinic seemed to be a more restful, safe and complete with some of the latest gadgets:
"...and under hands the inner wall parted, revealing behind it a bathroom and splendidly equipped toilet...There is no such equipment even anywhere abroad."
This is odd to me. I almost got the impression that Bulgakov was making a statement by making the clinic seem like an expensive hotel with facilities not found elsewhere. Isn't this a rather strange reversal when the free Russian had much more meagre facilities?
In my hypothesis, I have trouble placing Margarita. However, I had a bit of a thought that maybe she represented Bulgakov's courage and faith in himself. That while part of him crumbled under criticism, a separate part of him stayed strong and weathered the most difficult storms to be triumphant once those storms passed.
Also, I thought that once the Master and Margarita were back together again, the cowardice of Pilate - perhaps another hint at a weaker side of Bulgakov - is forgiven and the personification released.
This is all rather muddled, but they're the kinds of things that appealed to me at different times during the book. Did anyone else see any of this while reading the book?