Sunday, January 11, 2009

TSS Week 25

Crime and Punishment is a philosophical novel about human nature, morality and Russian society at the time it was set, although one could argue that such struggles can take place in any society at any time. I don't know that the following description contains a spoiler, as you can probably find this information on any book jacket, but if you intend to read Crime and Punishment without any knowledge of it beforehand, skip the rest of this review.

Raskolnikov, the protagonist, commits murder fairly early in the book. He kills an old pawnbroker woman he despises along with her sister, who is an innocent bystander who happens to walk in while he is committing the crime. He kills them with an axe. It's gruesome.

This happens so early that the entire novel centers around the aftermath. Will Raskolnikov be caught? Many seem to suspect him. Will he crack and confess? He certainly borders on madness and insanity throughout. Does he feel any remorse? Well, he certainly justifies his position, drawing on philosophy, history and his own intellect to excuse himself. Do we buy his reasoning? Ah, that is the question.

The other characters and lesser narratives that run through Crime and Punishment really invite the reader in. I might be alone in this opinion, but I found it hard to care much about Raskolnikov. Get caught, don't get caught, it didn't really make much difference to me. He is not likeable or hateful - he just left me ambivalent. But throw in a sister, a mother, friends, etc. who are affected by his choices, and now I care deeply. And by the end, I am on the edge of my seat, wondering what will happen.

The fact that I'm long-winded means I loved it. It made me think about a lot of issues, and I'm sure there was much I didn't understand that would merit a re-read in the future. My only complaint is not with the work itself but with the version I read via DailyLit emails. I think the translation of that version was poor. Also, Russians seem to have a lot of names, so it was hard to keep track of characters. (For example, Raskolnikov's real name is Rodion Romanovitch, and he is sometimes called Rodya, yet often called Raskolnikov.) But other than that, I definitely recommend it.


Anonymous said...

I read Crime and Punishment two years ago. It was completely different than what I expected, but I loved it. It wasn't an easy read though. You are correct about keeping up with the many Russian names. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

stu said...

The Night Watch trilogy had the same issue with the names, mixing diminutives, formal versions and normal names almost at random. Then again, since I go by Stu, I can't really complain.

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