Friday, 1 February 2013

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky - Book review

Publisher’s write-up:
‘Regarded as the world's greatest novelist and literary psychologist, Dostoevsky makes his works readable and enjoyable by presenting the political, social and religious issues of the 19th century Russia. This novel also comes in this line.

The plot unravels the story of a poor university student Raskolnikov contemplating long and finally murdering an unscrupulous old pawnbroker for her money. He evades the hands of law, and even justifies his act that murder is permissible to attain a higher purpose and that the old pawnbroker deserves to be murdered. However, with the encouragement of his lady love Sonia, he confesses before law and is sentenced to eight years of hard labour prison. During this time, he realises that true love pervades, and with his release, he undergoes rebirth and resurrection.

Basically, the novel carries the quintessence of Russian novels - the nature of good and evil. But beyond this, it also gives insightful treatment of themes like morality and atonement, and more essentially reverberates throughout the book, a religious call for redemption through suffering.’

Crime and Punishment is a supposed psychological thriller novel written in the 19th century by the Russian-Lithuanian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. I’d have never come across this book otherwise; leave alone the thought of actually buying it, but this book was continually mentioned in Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses with Rebus narrating the story to Reeve, a story which the latter loves and hence, I thought, I might give it a try.

The story features Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, a former university student, who is in a state of absolute penury and pawns his insignificant possessions for a meagre amount. Several events are squeezed into the first hundred pages: he receives a letter from his mother who informs him that his sister is engaged to Pyotr Petrovitch Luzhin, a lawyer based in St. Petersburg and Raskolnikov understands at once that his sister has agreed to this arrangement only to help her family financially; Raskolnikov also meets a man at a tavern, whose life has been ruined because of his drinking habit and narrates his sorry state of affairs to Raskolnikov – his wife and daughter, Sonia, eventually become important characters in the plot; it also portrays Raskolnikov’s reclusive nature , his friendship with the only friend whom he has, Razumihin; and last, the murder also takes place, even before the hundredth page – with Raskolnikov murdering the pawn broker and her sister. The rest of the story is about his delusions regarding the murder and his personal squabbles with his family. It also involves a romantic sub-plot between Sonia and Raskolnikov.

I found the entire concept amazing – with the murderer being a protagonist in a crime novel and also, the murderer having nothing more than circumstantial evidence against him. I’d also give Dostoevsky the credit due to him for the way in which he built Raskolnikov’s character during the course of the story with extreme diligence.

But for that, there is nothing good to say about this novel. This novel was awfully long but at the same time, doesn’t have any content to fill up those pages. Moreover, it has been written in such a manner that the reader can’t even skim through the content and it was an absolutely excruciating experience, going through the whole thing. Several things in this story were illogical such as, Sonia and Raskolnikov falling in love all of a sudden to an extent where he confides to Sonia, regarding the facts of the murder. The only highlights of the novel were the conversations between the lawyer Porfiry Petrovich and Raskolnikov, how he cleverly forces Raskolnikov to give out several details that he didn’t intend to and also the conversation between Luzhin and his roommate Lebezyatnikov (or whatever his name is). 

Another aspect, for which the author could hardly be blamed for, nevertheless, it is a hindrance for any reader who doesn’t have much knowledge on Russian history and culture. When I read such things about the book, I didn’t let that bother me much because I always had a feeling that I was reasonably knowledgeable on Russia’s history if not on their culture (I even know to read the Cyrillic script) but I’ve never, ever had a problem with Russian names – be it contemporary politicians or the uncountable large pool of women tennis players and the only name for which I’ve struggled is that of the former Everton winger, Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. But in Crime and Punishment, the names were a way too complicated – I don’t know if the modern Russian names have been made simpler or it is just an awful coincidence that none of the names that I’ve come across have such complicated names. For instance, Raskolnikov’s sister is called Dounia by her close family members and Avdotya Romanovna by others and it was the same case with every other character such as Sonia, Razumihin, et cetera. While I understand that Romanovna is a patronymic, nevertheless, the two different first names are confusing. For those of you who are familiar with the Russian naming system, there is no problem, but for others, it is certainly a hindrance especially, while considering the number of characters in this novel.

On the whole, this is a very dull and over rated novel. It took me nearly six months to complete the novel (I had posted in Astute's facebook page, in August, that this shall be the next review) and was reading this worth the time and effort? Far from it. The only suspense about the whole thing was the Raskolnikov ultimately confessing to the authorities after being pronounced innocent but that too, was given away by the publisher of my edition. This was said to be a psychological thriller but I differ. It is just a story about a mad man who just thinks that his personality is similar to Napoleon (Raskolnikov himself compares himself with the French emperor several times). This book doesn’t deserve anything more than three out of ten.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,

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