Synopsis: An impoverished ex-student murders a cruel pawnbroker on the basis that he has rid the world of a vermin.In light of the events he will witness and people he will encounter,the days following this tragedy will be ones of doubt and mental anguish,but also of truth and redemption.
Why you should read ‘Crime and Punishment’:
1. The Psyche. Crime and Punishment is a testimony to Dostoevsky’s status as the most eminent psychologist of literature.Owing to the stark contrast between his inner thoughts and his outer appearance,Raskolnikov is in himself a masterpiece.He is someone whom nobody in the book understands,yet all his actions are planned with great intelligence.Moreover Dostoevsky wrote this novel at a time when he was psychologically strained,and this psyche is mirrored in Raskolnikov’s mind.The latter is rash,violent and disturbed in his thoughts,yet he must remain composed to dispel any doubt on him and to think of ways of overcoming the numerous traps set by the police to corner him.Raskolnikov’s stream of consciousness is unique in literature!
2. The Intensity of the Scenes. Dostoevsky is a master at heightening drama.The subjects treated in this book – paedophilia,infantile prostitution and extreme poverty among others – are crudely exposed and never fail to move and horrify the readers.Moreover the antagonists are cunning maniacs and very disturbed individuals, and strike most when their preys are at their weakest,creating in the process scenes of extreme pathos!
3.The Background Story Crime and Punishment is more than a fictional story.It is a rebuttal to the movements which place man above God.People might not understand why Dostoevsky so much emphasised the different mental phases Raskolnikov goes through,yet it is in them that lies the essential beauty of the novel.It is thus primordial that readers,preferably after reading the book,should learn more about Doestoevsky’s motives behind such a story.Only then will they fully appreciate the masterpiece which Crime and Punishment is and the genius of Fyodor Dostoevsky.
4. The Structure. Like most Russian novels of its time,Crime and Punishment was written and published in parts and not holistically.Each part is unique,in the sense that each comprises peculiar characters,themes and a portion of Raskolnikov’s mental progress.Moreover the parts all have in common an unexpected and dramatic ending that will leave readers flabbergasted and wondering what will happen next.These parts are in themselves excellent mini-stories and,when threaded together,give a masterpiece.
5.The Cast The characters of this book are as peculiar as one another.They are depicted with noticeable realism and are a reflection of the other side of the world which many of us tend to overlook: among these characters are an infant prostitute,a paedophile and a woman falling from grace to stark and maddening poverty.Their presence makes the plot,already tainted with Raskolnikov’s crime,even more twisted and shocking; Crime and Punishment wouldn’t be the book it is without them.
What you might not like in ‘Crime and Punishment’:
1. The Names. One major difficulty people have when reading ‘old’ Russian novels is to remember the different names of a character. For instance, Raskolnikov’s sister is called ”Dunya”, ”Dunechka” or ”Avdotya Romanovna”. In fact, the name by which she is referred to by Dostoevsky depends on her surroundings: with her brother,she is ”Dunya”; with her mother and brother,she is ”Dunechka”; in society, she is ”Avdotya Romanovna”.While this may seem easy at first sight, you should bear in mind that Dostoevsky doesn’t tell you anything about the Russian tradition of names( maybe he expected his audience to be only Russian), and as a result, you may end up thinking Avdotya Romanovna,Dunya and Dunechka to be three different persons. I suggest you buy an edition which lists,onto a page before the start of the novel,all the different names by which the characters are called. 2. The Gloom This novel is incredibly sombre.It doesn’t contain any humour,and instead,is filled with gloomy and morbid thinking.The story is set in Old Russia where some people live in stark poverty,get drunk,or have to rely on prostitution to make a living.Additionally our protagonist,our companion in the book,is depressed and antipathetic,and smiles only out of flashes of madness.Such sombreness totally fits the story and helps create an impact on readers,but I thought you might know about this,lest you pick it and expect something more Tolstoy-like,that is,more enchanting. 3.Lacks in beauty Dostoevsky’s book focuses on the depraved state of humanity and accordingly he creates a very obscure and derelict backdrop for his scenes.In this respect,the novel is a far cry from books like Anna Karenina or The Great Gatsby,both of which are recognized for the beauty of their words and settings.
Verdict: Crime and Punishment remains a timeless masterpiece because of its ability to still shock and disturb.It is also a very gripping story,with many dramatic events taking place at the same time.The level of depth Dostoevsky gives to his characters is baffling and he depicts the Russian suburbs so well,that it is hard not to be absorbed by this story.Just be aware that it is not for everyone,as it lacks much in beauty and is a very gloomy book of high complexity.