Published on April 3rd, 2013 | by Michaela Buckley0
Crime & Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Most of the classic literature I’ve been reading lately, I’ve started without any knowledge, aside from the title and the author. Either through laziness or that I’m wont, I find I enjoy books better when I have no idea what to expect. Which is good because I had no idea what Crime & Punishment was about.
I first read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky a while ago and loved it. Every Russian novel I’ve ever read has been outstanding and this one particularly so, the abundance of intriguing characters and the complexity of their relationships were unlike anything I’ve ever read.
So I’ve been really looking forward to reading this as everyone’s always banging on about it.
As the title suggests the novel is about a crime and the implications therein. Fortunately I did manage to gather that this might be the case when I picked it up. It is told in third person however mostly centres around one main character called Rodion Raskolnikov, who is a former student who has quitted and turned to drink and solitude. Raskolnikov or Rodya, is suffering monomanic delusions and is horrendously poor so hatches a plan involving the murder of a pawnbroker that he has sold some pledges to.
The book mostly follows Rodya and the people around him reacting to the murder and his subsequent illness, with no knowledge of the former. It maintains a close and personal account of Rodya’s mental condition and degrading health whilst also leaving the complete intent of the murder a mystery for the majority of the book. Well I think it was meant to be a mystery or else the penny dropped pretty late.
As per many pieces of Russian literature, there features heavy realism in this novel, with a large portion of the book giving descriptive summaries of the architecture and surrounding environs of St. Petersburg 1866, where the story is set.
The bustling lives of 19th Century Russians are detailed finely with special attention on the clothes and class society that these people have.
So, I wouldn’t recommend if you can’t even handle a Dickensian level of description, mind you, I probably would recommend not bothering with books in general and just reading scripts instead.
There is also a lot of rich imagery. The use of the word yellow to signal malady and malcontent is prevalent throughout as well as the use of red as an indicator of rage and anguish.
You can always learn much about Russian culture when you read a Russian book and in this novel I learnt what a “Yellow Passport” is, a ticket which allows one to practice prostitution and the holder is subject to frequent medical check ups. This sounds like a great idea, I think it would be good to introduce something like this in the UK, telling people not to practice one of the world’s oldest and hardest to detect jobs is a bit like yelling at a dog to stop wagging its tail when petting it.
Dostoyevsky employs many similar themes to The Brothers Karamazov, like poverty, religion and social hierarchy.
Nearly all of the characters in the book are poverty stricken and struggle to keep rent paid and feed their families, this is shown in the most scrutinising detail, as Dostoyeksky was not a rich man himself, he had a challenging relationship with his faith and this is evident in his creation of devoted and passionate characters like the prostitute Sonia compared to the distracted reliance of Rodya.
The lack of intrigue in the novel left me a little disappointed and the characters weren’t exciting or fun enough to keep me fully engaged, however they are interesting and thought provoking, which compelled me to be concerned for them.
My favourite aspect was the abundance of Psychology and Philosophy themes present in the book, Rodya is a very polar character, somehow remaining likeable whilst being a selfish and conceited murderer, however he is also prone to acts of huge generousity, he feels guilt for his actions, but not in a direct way, he is his own punishment as his mind wreaks havoc on his body. I sometimes felt a little guilty whilst reading this as I felt I was rooting for him when he was committing sinful acts and I was condemning him when he did nice things like give his money away to a grieving widow.
But the depth of neuro-science is not just in the way the main character descends into madness and confusion, but also the thoughts of the other minor characters, often only serving as incomplete conversations that have little bearing on the plot or even the current situation.
I’ve got a little way to go before the end, but it being a 600 page book I’m sure you can forgive my not having finished it in the allotted week. I’m assuming there’s not going to be a mindblowing twist so I’ve probably said all I can be bothered without going into singular in-depth analysis.
Definitely not as refined and intellectual as The Brothers Karamazov but a fantastic book nonetheless if a little hard going and lacking in steady pace.