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!
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.
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.
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.
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,