Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This book is on pretty much every “top books to read during your lifetime” list. And, after this book sitting forgotten on my bookshelf for a long time (I actually own it on Kindle too, so technically I own two copies), I read it.

And I am completely lost for words of this masterpiece!

Release: 1866

Synopsis: The story centers around young student Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (say that ten time faster), an intelligent but troubled young man who concocts the perfect murder of a cruel pawnbroker. However, following the murder, Raskolnikov is trapped in his guilty existence, driving him towards madness as his mother and sister join him in St. Petersburg, he falls in love with a streetwalker Sonia, and the authorities race to find the murderer.

Non-spoiler Review

Don’t make the mistake in thinking this is a fast-paced murder mystery from the perspective of the killer. Instead, it is a psychological examination of humanity, especially pertaining to crime. The pacing is ridiculously slow-moving, but the characters are both insightful and disturbingly real. I personally loved this book, but if you are looking for an upbeat thriller, this is not for you. Instead, it is a slow-burn filled mostly with characters discussing topics from poverty, murder, psychology, love, etc.

The book feels meandering, as if Dostoevsky started with a premise in mind and then just wrote to see where the book would take him. The plot is straightforward, comprising of the main story (the murder) as well as the drama surrounding several characters Raskolnikov comes in contact with. Honestly, while I certainly found the plot interesting, it didn’t strike me as being incredibly unique, especially having read so many murder mysteries in my life. Instead, what makes this book into a masterpiece, in my opinion, are the characters.

Raskolnikov is a surprisingly likable protagonist (maybe because I slightly related to him). On one hand, he is intelligent and easily depressed. He overthinks everything (I suffer from this) to the point of being paranoid. He also has a bit of a God complex, believing he had every right to kill the woman because she is scum. And yet, there is a part of him which sees that he did wrong, a part that is constantly struggling with his other side, which is trying to justify his crime.

I could go through all the characters, as they are all interesting, but I’ll just mention a few who stood out to me. First and foremost is Porfiry Petrovich, the magistrate investigating the murders, who figures out early on that Raskolnikov is the murderer and plays a psychological game with him to get him to confess. I loved him so much, though I wished we could have gotten to know more about his character outside his investigation. I also liked Dunia (not her full name, but it’s her nickname), Raskolnikov’s sister. She’s the perfect combination of strength and kindness. Also, Razumikhin (Raskolnikov’s friend from school) is pretty adorable! He’s nosy, but he’s got a good heart and strong morals.

I see a lot of reviewers saying this book was depressing, but I did not find it so. Perhaps that was because I was reading it as a sort of psychological examination of the characters, so I felt disconnected enough to not be emotional affected. But whatever the reason, the book is sobering, certainly, but not depressing, especially as the ending was actually mostly happy! Which was not what I was expecting.

Spoilers Ahead!

I want to spend a bit of time talking about the ending, because it really surprised me. I was expecting it to be rather sad, but it ended on a note of…hope.

So, Raskolnikov turns himself in to the authorities, confessing his crime, and is sentenced to eight years in a Siberian penal colony (it seems a bit easy to me, since that means he’ll be only about thirty-one when he gets out). Razumikhin and Dunia marry (which I’m happy about because she had three men courting her and he was the only decent one). Sonia follows Raskolnikov to Siberia, where she visits him daily in prison.

Raskolnikov comes to realize how wrong he had been and how he must change his life when he is released. Sonia promises to marry him when he leaves and the books ends with this paragraph:

“But that is the beginning of a new story–the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his transition from one world into another, of his initiation into a new, unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is over.”

It would be so easy to end such a story as this with an ending of Raskolnikov turning himself into authorities, and yet it ends after that. It ends with hope that, although some lives have ended, that there is still hope that a new life will begin. It is a very Christian idea, emphasized by Sonia reading Raskolnikov the story of Lazarus in the Bible earlier in the book, about a dead man rising from the dead. There is this theme in the book that out of death there comes new life, and out of sin can come virtue.

Conclusion

This book has immediately become my new favorite. While it’s certainly a serious, complex book, it’s so amazing! I could go on and on about all the great aspects, scenes, and characters, but I’ll not bore you too much and instead finish with a line I started this review with.

This book is a masterpiece!

Have you read this novel? Or anything else by Dostoevsky? What are your views of this book or classic Russian literature in general? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more madness and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

18 thoughts on “Book Review: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

  1. Dostoevsky has a soft spot in my heart, and not just because he writes well and seems to tap into the human psyche like no other author. I’ve been to the locales of his work, sat in his study in St. Petersbrug, and even traipsed up the steps of the apartment where Raskolnikov murdered the pawn broker. It was as foreboding and as menacing an environment as in the novel.

    I own a copy of Crime and Punishment in the original Russian language, along with a few other choice works by Dostoevsky. My personal favorites are Demons, The Brothers Karamazov, and Notes from the Underground.

    To give some historical context, Dostoevsky was part of an intellectual movement in Russia called the Slavophiles (Tolstoy was one as well) as opposed to the Westernizers, who endlessly debated about the cultural, political, and societal course of Russia. Obviously, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy appealed to embracing Russia’s difference from the West, especially its adherence to Orthodox Christianity. So the themes of redemption, salvation and forgiveness come up very often in not just Dostoevsky’s work but Tolstoy’s as well. The main difference being that while Dostoevsky adhered to a more traditionalist view of Orthodoxy, Tolstoy took a more…nuanced approach to it, one that was more distrustful of the Church and more about personal faith.

    Regardless, I love him, and learning about the history behind Crime and Punishment as well as his other novels just makes me appreciate Dostoevsky all the more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so jealous that you got to visit Russia! To go up the stairs were Raskolnikov would have climbed to kill the pawnbroker would be so cool, as well and everything else. I wish I knew Russian so I could read the original.

      And thank you for explaining more about Dostoevsky. I read a bit about him before reading this book, but I definitely want to learn more about his life. Such a brilliant author had such a difficult but interesting life. I need to read a bunch of Tolstoy too!

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      1. He is a very interesting author, definitely, and it’s no stretch to say that much of his personal life (especially his early nihilism and then later embrace of Christianity) colors much of his work. In fact, in undergrad, my Russian professor ventured that one could look at his whole bibliography from first to last as his own spiritual awakening.

        Of the two authors, I prefer Tolstoy, but that might be because of War and Peace. If you really want a challenge for yourself, that would be the best Tolstoy novel to read, though its length is very, very daunting. Also it’s a good contrast to show how Tolstoy and Dostoevsky looked at the problems in Russian society. Even though both were Slavophiles, Tolstoy was more critical of certain aspects of Russian life (especially serfdom and of the overbearing rule of the Tsar) than Dostoevsky.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You’re such an…expert. I feel like I know nothing about Russian literature compared to you. I’ve heard some people say they prefer Dostoevsky and others prefer Tolstoy, but I want to read more of both. I love when you read a writer’s writing that you can tell they have changed and developed over the years, both in their understanding of the world and their ideals.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. No, I haven’t read anything else by him, but now I really want to! Everyone’s been recommending The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. I really want to read more by Dostoevsky! I agree with you, he’s such a mastermind!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lol, the protagonist’s name is so long.
    I think Dostoyevsky has a strong religious belief ( this may kind of explain why he writes the ending like that) and yet he keeps questioning and doubting his beliefs at the same time. This feeling of contradiction are extremely conspicuous in The Brothers Karamazov.

    I enjoy reading this book review so much, especially the theme you’ve concluded that out of sin comes the virtue. Very impressive! I want to get around to reading this masterpiece some day.

    By the way, reading his novel gives me a feeling that the author is torturing and grilling himself. I feel something quite intense in his book. He really digs deep into human nature. But great minds suffer a lot…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Dostoevsky certainly questions his own beliefs and every belief that other people have. There is such depth to his books. But I agree, all the characters’ names were so long that I had trouble in the beginning remembering who was who!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You can say that again!

        And the long names in Russian classics are perplexing. Sometimes they scare me away, which causes me to miss out those great books. Take Life and Fate for example, there’re so many characters and so many names that I have to take notes. But I still have a hard time Lol.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review, and I completely agree with you that this book is a masterpiece. Dostoyevsky is a keen observer of the human nature and such psychologically-deep novels are his forte. Even though Russian is my native language, I read this book in English first time around (as most other Russian classics such as Anna Karenina), and adored it to bits. If you liked it you may enjoy The Idiot by Dostoyevsky. I also just noticed someone else above recommended it too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always enjoy reading your reviews whether I read the book or not or do not plan to or even if it’s not right up my alley. I have this one on my TBR. I’ll try to get around to reading it sometime in the near future.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know I recommended it to you previously, but The Idiot. 🙂 Also, I once read an interview of a psychologist, and she said to forget the psych books, the most realistic psychological descriptions are all in Dostoevsky. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

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