Review of Crime and Punishment

Crime and PunishmentCrime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My reading of Crime and Punishment was the start of what I hope to be a revisiting of numerous Russian classics. I read all the big guns (barring War and Peace) many years ago and, quite frankly, got NOTHING out of them. I was confused, bored, confused, unable to wade through the thick writing, confused and, lastly, confused.

I should probably address my confusion. I am, in real life as well as in art, an absolute clod at handling peoples’ names. And it is common in the writing of many languages for characters to be referred to with various handles. In Russian you have the complete name, the last name, and the familiar name all interchanged willy nilly. So your main character will be Raskolnikov for the first ten pages and then suddenly someone named Rodya will be addressed. And you’re supposed to know with zero instruction that this is Raskolnikov’s nickname, or familiar address. Which is fine. I shorten Elizabeth to Liz or Thomas to Tom or Richard to Dick (though I’ve never understood that last one). But when it’s a nickname for a giant name in a foreign language that I hadn’t grasped much to begin with and has very little to do with the original name and there is zero hand-holding given…well I get lost. Combine three names per character with 12 or 13 main characters and for me it’s a complete cluster-f**k of proper nouns that I have a hard time keeping straight.

Ten years ago I was lost, now I managed to keep my head in the game and sort out what name referred to whom with, for me, shocking accuracy.

I know that seems like a terribly superficial thing to dwell on, but nothing has effected my ability to enjoy Russian literature more than this. And I’m not saying it should change, again, this is standard fare for many languages, but man does it make for some rough going.

Okay, that’s out of the way, now onto the book. The book is awesome. Somehow I missed this ten years ago. It’s a brilliantly gripping story of murder told mainly through the eyes of the murderer. Raskolnikov’s madness and rambling thoughts are beautifully painted as well as his struggles during lucid moments to come to terms with what he actually believes. This struggle takes place amid tons of philosophical ramblings from all the characters. But the philosophies discussed were only barely overwritten (I generally have little patience for authors who let a character take ten pages to pontificate on their personal philosophy…a few sentences, sure, but I’ve never been out drinking and heard anyone talk for twenty minutes straight about the nature of man. It just doesn’t happen and whenever I catch an author doing this it pulls me out of the story). The cast of characters were interesting, the numerous subplots of blackmail, coercion, love and desperate attempts to cling to the past were all fascinating. Not to mention you get a very interesting twist on the classic Who-Done-It here where…well you *know* “Who Did It.” You watch him do it. And yet the book manages to keep the police investigation interesting and believable as well as cast just enough doubt on what on earth actually happened due to Raskolnikov’s somewhat unreliable viewpoint.

And then, after all of this, at the end, you are suddenly given just a stunningly beautiful affirmation of humanity and love that came so out of nowhere yet had a perfect foundation under it that I got chills up and down.

I can’t wait to read this again in ten years…maybe even less…depends on how long War and Peace takes me.

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