Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Book Review - "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

After an intriguing start, this novel leads you into a tunnel of darkness, desolation and despair, where you will see no light until you reach the final Part. Once you are there, you will get your cathartic relief with the denouement of a simple but suspenseful plot. I am so glad that my Goodreads friends encouraged me to keep going when, at one point, I was on the verge of quitting, as some parts were particularly difficult for me to read. Indeed, it was definitely worth reading to the end. I’m giving the novel 3.5 stars.

It is in the main a story of an abjectly deprived, 23-year-old student’s agonizing psychological journey from the moment he commits two murders based on a wild theory that he divines, right through to the time of his confession to police. Through his internal debate, the reader is made to ponder the philosophical questions raised: do geniuses like Napoleon have the right to destroy things or people they consider as obstacles? Do such extraordinary individuals have the right to make laws for the rest of mankind, that is, ordinary folks, for the greater good? Even in the early days of imprisonment, the protagonist still obstinately believes that his theory has nothing wrong. We, as readers, can’t help but wonder too.

“Of course, many of the benefactors of mankind who snatched power for themselves instead of inheriting it ought to have been punished at their first steps. But those men succeeded and so they were right, and I didn’t, and so I had no right to have taken that step.”

Throughout the novel, the reader is made aware of the fact that the protagonist is by nature a kind-hearted and compassionate man who loves his family and friends and who cares for the destitute and the weak. He is also made out to be a learned intellectual who has an acute sense of right and wrong. The reader is thus constantly put through the dilemma of whether to sympathize with him or condemn him outright for the cold-blooded crime. The author’s skill at characterization is quite beyond question, although personally I would’ve have liked the long-winded dialogues cut short a tad. But the emotional ending more than makes up for that little flaw.

My final verdict: Do I think Dostoyevsky is a brilliant author? Yes, definitely. Did I enjoy reading this novel? It’s not exactly my cup of tea.

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