Review: Crime and Punishment

The book in question.

For those who are unaware, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (my copy translated to English by Constance Garnett) is a story about Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov. He has a theory that some people are greater than others and therefore they can commit crimes for their greater purpose. He therefore kills and is either proving his own theory incorrect, or has to accept he is not one of those great people. In the middle of this, his landlady wants rent, his sister is getting married (perhaps for money to help support him and their mother), and he comes to know the family of an alcoholic. How all of this plays out on his deteriorating psyche, and of those deteriorating around him, is the palette for this canvas.

As a classic, I have to put Crime and Punishment in a category of its own. I don’t do this with most genres because I have always investigated plots and characters of all other genres generally the same. A book might fail at its stated genre, but I could care less about that most of the time, because I judge a book on its own and less because it is a romance or a mystery. The mystery could be terrible, but the characters and events around it astounding and while I call it out on one I love it for the rest.

Classics are in a very different category all together. I read epic fantasies where a paragraph can last a page. I love Tolkien. Yet I loved taking in the worldbuilding in his books, while in Crime and Punishment I felt so many details I could not immerse myself in or someone monologuing for pages on end about almost nothing. (Not true, I will be honest, but it felt like it enough.) I have read people praise this book’s pacing, and perhaps in an entirety that is true, but for the first two thirds of the book I felt most scenes were twice as long as they needed to be. It is a philosophical novel, I know. Yet there is a point where something is iterated so often it begins to lose meaning. And for me, that was the beginning of the book. Up until about page 400.

Around that point one of the most despicable characters in the book (actually, two of them) got more page space and what they wanted to do and their reasons were infinitely more interesting than the main character’s initial motivations and subsequent psychosis. I did not like Raskolnikov. I do not really care for his brand of a jerk with a heart of gold, because between those two layers is a third that said he thought himself high enough to kill an old woman with an axe. And not only her, but her innocent sister. From everything explained about the moneylender who Rodion Raskolnikov planned on killing, I can understand why someone would want her gone. Later in the book he even admits that there should perhaps be more understanding if he had really done it to take her money, being poor and destitute as he was.

Nevermind he was poor because he did nothing to work. He obviously was suffering from some other ailments, first but not foremost his developing attempt at sociopathy. I am not certain what I was supposed to glisten from the pages focusing on his illness and rambling. What was given so much focus and the events that were glazed over baffled me.

In the end, I would have been much more interested in a story about Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunia. Her story is resolved in this book, but starts only through letters. What she has to endure and the illness of the people around her not only drew me in so much more, it (I almost hesitate to say), felt more human than the interactions around Raskolnikov. And I do not mean because of cultural differences or because of the translation.  How people would excuse and forgive him didn’t feel right. Because even if he was not guilty of murder, he was still in trouble. Understanding of such psychological problems at the time (and even now) was limited, I didn’t expect them to treat him well, even with those well meaning. Or written to appear well meaning.

Of all the characters, Sonia made the least sense. I will not get into everything she did, which in the end was very little other than be there, but so much weight was put upon her for her doing nothing. Her character was said to be so pious and pure, of which I do not deny, but she still made no sense to me. She accepted things, promised things, for no reason as far as I could tell. What she decided to do and make of herself by the end of the book didn’t make much sense either, unless it is true and every woman “sees fit to save a man in need” as the most disgusting (and therefore the most interesting) character in the book said. She says Raskolnikov is the most distressed man in the world. This appears to be all she needs to want to be with him.

I could ramble on more, but I will not. I will not deny it took me a while to pick away at this book and not because of the length. It was a difficult read, not only because of the history I had to take in as well, but the formatting (huge blocks of paragraphs) and my boredom with the redundancy of Raskolnikov’s perspective.

Therefore, I recommend this book for people interested in Russian culture and history, those into philosophical and psychological inquiries, those who want to read the classics. Outside of that I cannot recommend this book to anyone else. I did not feel the suspense of a crime novel, because early on I found I did not care for the main plot in the slightest and I could not submerge myself into the story.


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