The screech of the subway accompanied my reading of this book. Yet the narrative drowned out all sound and thought — out of a class of 450 individuals, most agreed that Dostoevsky pulled them in and Raskolnikov’s erratic crazed thoughts kept them going through all five-hundred-and-something pages.
The writing is indeed great. It sustains a stream of consciousness flair and reflects the protagonist’s cluttered thoughts, often cluttering the narrative for the reader. That does not take away from the pleasure of reading, however, as the text always takes you somewhere else. As soon as the reader begins to lose focus, the author whisks her away to a new place.
I would like to add a note on the translation (edition pictured above). Unfortunately, I was unable to read it in Russian, as it was assigned for class. However, the translators did a really good job of preserving the style and flow of Russian prose. I highly recommend this edition.
It would be impossible to go over everything that Dostoevsky deals with in this book. This review could not fit all of that. For my purposes, several words would sum up the core: ideology, Napoleon, Lazarus, and suffering. Crime and Punishment, being written in the latter half of nineteenth century, really digs into the perils of ideology and ideological thinking. Nihilism, utilitarianism, egotistic rationalism … There is plenty of intellectual and social criticism delivered through particular characters or episodes.
Then there is Raskolnikov and his Napoleonic ideology: he commits murder to see whether he could “step over”. Much is to be said about his motivations, the desire to punch through the suffocating mold of modernity, urbanization, et cetera, et cetera … Affirm oneself as an individual. Strangely (or not), I relate to that aspect of Raskolnikov. Not much else, however. Raskolnikov is posited in direct opposition to his friend Razumikhin, who is much more likeable. Razumikhin is acceptant of his position in society and instead of trying to take shortcuts to greatness, he is a forward-thinking opitimist who always has a plan. Even his name points to his nature — razum means “reason” or “mind”. Conversely, Raskolnikov’s name derives from the root raskol, meaning “crack” or “split”. Indeed, Raskolnikov is a torn man.
The story of Lazarus is central for his spiritual ressurection. Personally, I love when books engage in such explicit instances of intertextuality. The story is actually read by the characters in the book, and Raskolnikov’s salvation is mapped onto the ressurection of Lazarus. Coincidentally, my favourite quote from the whole book appears in this passage:
“The candle-end had long been burning out in the bent candlestick, casting a dim light in this destitute room upon the murderer and the harlot strangely come together over the reading of the eternal book.”
Finally, Dostoevsky insists that the way to spiritual renewal is through physical suffering. The conclusion of the book is devoted to expounding that argument. The dynamic ends up being an interesting one: throughout the whole narrative, Raskolnikov suffers mentally because his action failed to meet his expectations, his ideology proved wrong; in the end, Raskolnikov gives in to physical suffering with a kind of relief at knowing that it is the price that will buy his exculpation.
Crime and Punishment is a book that I will certainly revisit, especially since I must read the original. If you do not mind commiting to the lengthy narrative, I promise your time and efforts will be handsomely repaid in food for thought and some awesome quotes. 400 out of 450 people would recommend this book 🙂 <- not an accurate statistic.