Book review: Crime and Punishment

Title: Crime and Punishment
Author: Fyodor Dostoeyevsky
Translator: Constance Garnett
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions Limited
ISBN: 978-1-8402-2430-6
Genre: Classic/Literary Fiction
Pages: 462
Rating: 5/5

I had thought that I’ll read the Russians in the original, which is why I had not read a single Russian author willingly. I had read a short story by Anton Chekhov since it was in my second year syllabus. Anyway, I soon realised that I was being unreasonable and decided that knowing the story of a novel in translation will only help me when I actually get around to learning the original language. So here I am, reviewing the first ever Russian novel I read: Dostoeyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, which I decided upon for no particular reason. 

So there is going to be a crime and there is going to be a punishment, but despite knowing that, as a reader I found myself asking questions like who, why, when, how, and so on. In walks Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov – the protagonist- who is muttering to himself, making arguments and counter arguments, while walking haphazardly in the cold without a hat. While Raskolnikov walks, Dostoeyevsky gives the reader an insight into the city of St. Petersburg: its streets, the people who walk those streets, and the poverty that seems to be sucking the marrow out of their existence. 

Raskolnikov is a student who has dropped out of University because of lack of funds. Though intelligent, he seems to be gripped with a theory that is destroying him bit by bit. It is this theory that has led him to neglect his health, finances, and relationships. And it is ultimately this theory that makes him commit the crime, too. He has also written a paper on the very theory, and it is published in a journal shortly after he has committed the crime. Slowly, as is written in the paper, Raskolnikov suffers a bout of serious illness. And it is this paper that helps Porfiry, the police officer, “solve” the crime. 

The events that follow the crime give the author the opportunity to explore the human mind in its darkest places: pride, the illusion of greatness and superiority, fear, sickness, delirium and alienation. Also, the reader is engaged in Raskolnikov’s many plans and arguments; in the suspense of whether he gets caught, and what happens when he finally surrenders.

Though Raskonikov is portrayed as someone who is a nihilist, there are more than one instances in the novel where he is seen helping the Marmeladovs out. However, this could be seen as nihilism too, in the sense that he is helping only those who are usually neglected or considered to be lower  in the social hierarchy. 

His character is interesting to say the least. And through him come Dostoeyevsky’s pleasing insights into the human mind:

I used to analyze myself down to the last thread, used to compare myself with others, recalled all the smallest glances, smiles and words of those to whom I’d tried to be frank, interpreted everything in a bad light, laughed viciously at my attempts ‘to be like the rest’ –and suddenly, in the midst of my laughing, I’d give way to sadness, fall into ludicrous despondency and once again start the whole process all over again – in short, I went round and round like a squirrel on a wheel.

And my favourite lines:

Strength, strength is what one wants, you can get nothing without it, and strength must be won by strength.

There is also a strong sense of religion in the novel, and it is evident that Dostoeyevsky was influenced by it. The major chunk of it in the novel comes through Sonia, Marmaledov’s daughter who works as a prostitute to support her family. Towards the end, it is Sonya to whom Raskolnikov confesses his crime and it is she who convinces him to confess to the police, thus bringing him closer to humanity again. 

More Russians are now going to be read!
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