The first thing I want to say is that when I made personal journal notes while reading this one, I referred to this world classic as Crime & Punny. For some reason that was just the funniest thing to me every single time over the many months it took me to work through the novel.
The second thing I want to say is that this is the fifth Dostoevsky novel I’d read. Even if his writing is frustrating at times, it’s also magnetic. As the reader I’m consistently drawn into the manic characters’ rambling inner monologues, and their uncomfortable social situations, and their big decisions. Sometimes I’m forced to reconsider my own life choices. That’s when Dostoevsky is at his best, I think – when his characters and their speeches force you to pick a side on a moral issue.
In Crime & Punishment the protagonist is a law student down on his luck. He is handsome, brilliant, struggling with mental illness, and fully absorbed in his own world and his own ideas. While profoundly antisocial, he can’t help but immerse himself in the local intellectual scene and the ideas of the time. He writes and publishes an article about morality and how certain great people can transcend the common rules. (Does this sound timely? It seems timely. Have you seen the HBO doc The Vow? Or…the news?) The protagonist wants to know whether he is one of these great people. That leads him to commit an act that permanently changes the fate of several lives.
This is a novel, with much more of a plot and a sense of urgency than The Brothers K. There’s something of a thriller feel to it, and a horror feel, as the reader knows what’s coming and suffers along with the characters along the way. However, I think Dostoevsky marries the plot with his own social commentary about social ideas of the time. The irony of his morality message here is familiar with anyone who has read the New Testament, as well. In that way it’s similar to The Idiot, but perhaps more compelling (although I do admire The Idiot).
For the curious, here are my Dostovevsky rankings, thus far:
- The Idiot
- Notes from the Underground
- Crime & Punishment
- The Gambler
- The Brothers Karamazov