So, it’s only taken since Christmas, but last week I finally finished reading Crime and Punishment on the Kindle. For anyone unfamiliar with the premise, you can read a synopsis and background here. Rather than cover that well-worn ground, I’ll attempt to give my own impressions of this most serious of novels.
This is not an easy read. But you knew that. Yet, it’s not the language or themes that are difficult to grasp, more the unrelenting gloom and paranoia which make it a hard slog. There is poverty, despair, madness and brutality here in abundance. To counteract this, I had a preconceived notion that remorse and redemption would play a large part. I was wrong. There is a surprising lack of genuine remorse shown by Raskolnikov for his crimes. Only at the very end does he seem to undergo a spiritual transformation but even then it is underexplained given all that has gone before.
What kept me reading was the acute psychological portrait of a man in turmoil. It is a visceral portrayal of anguish and yet Dostoevsky keeps his character poised between narcissistic anti-hero and pathetically misdirected intellectual. As with Notes from the Underground, it is his ability to empathise with and articulate the vicissitudes of the human condition that stands out.
The political and social condition of Russia at the time is important in adding context to Raskolnikov’s actions (any introduction to the text will explain this much better than I can!) and the city of St Petersburg, in all its filth and squalor, is a character in its own right albeit one that I was happy to say goodbye to by the time I’d finished.
Overall, I found it one of those novels that I admired rather than enjoyed.
Am I being too severe on this classic?