Sunday, 19 December 2010

Book #71


Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky


Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon: acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.


I'd like to say firstly that this is the first time I've dipped into Dostovesky, but it certainly won't be my last. I really feel as though I have been through something in the three weeks it has taken me to read this. His writing transcends time, and is still as relevant now as it was in the 1860s.

This is Dostovesky's most famous work, and rightly so as it is somewhat of a masterpiece. It's more of a psychological study than a story, and this is what makes it increasingly compelling. Our protagonist commits murder at the beginning of the novel, after which we are an audience to his accumulating feelings of guilt, anguish, paranoia and these (along with his attempts at self-justification) manifest and ultimately cause the collapse of his psyche.

Raskolnikov's constant agonising got to me, and made the book heavy to read in places. I felt that it was a really hard slog at times, but I also feel that this is perhaps intended and did add to the feeling of misery the novel was emanating. I did notice the style of writing causing me to empathise more than I normally would. The syntax employed could make me quite disconcerted, in keeping with the protagonist's feelings, for example hurried paragraphs made me feel quite agitated and fidgety. Some of the prose also seemed a bit dreamlike to me, and I ended up forgetting things only to be reminded of them again some pages later.

The novel also deals with various religious, moral, and philosophical consequences that arise from the actions of Dostovesky's characters. I particularly enjoyed the idea that the murder should be pardoned due to the woman's causing misery to various other people, charging them excessive amounts of interest on their pawned goods. Can the death of one person be justified if it means the salvation of many others?

I loved reading about life in St Peterburg in the 1860s. The descriptions of lodgings, dress and behaviours were so interesting to me. It was a nice history lesson, and the endnotes in my Wordsworth edition were helpful and enlightening.

I'd recommend this one. I think many people put it off as they think it'll be a difficult read - it's not! However, it does require an ounce of patience. Every written line has meaning, nothing is superfluous, and every character has their own importance. I also got a bit confused with the Russian names (I even thought at one point that someone had given a fake name on purpose!), but a bit of perseverance brings great understanding here.

It's gloomy and challenging, but it's also thought-provoking and beautifully written. I'd say come out of your comfort zone and at least give it a chance.


71 / 66 books. 108% done!

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