Never have I had such a love / hate relationship with a novel.
To be fair, there wasn’t anything I necessarily hated about Crime and Punishment, rather, there were just so many times I was frustrated with it. In an earlier update I made as I was reading this I compared the book to jazz and as a precursor to novels such as ‘Manhattan Transfer’ and the modern art movement. I still stand by that statement but I feel Dostoyevsky’s novel was more of a fitful start to the ‘modern’ movement and that it would take a much more conscience effort by later writers to really improve this style of novel writing.
Of course, Dostoyevsky didn’t set out to write the first ‘modern’ novel, but he was reacting to modern life and the freedoms that come with it. And that’s the odd thing about this book – the freedom that suffocates our characters. True, most everyone in the book is wretchedly poor and thus shackled by poverty or alcoholism or pride or some other wicked vice, but they’re free to decide how to behave in such a setting. Everyone is bothered by regrets; except Sofia (the hooker we never see turn a trick and who has the now over-done ‘heart of gold’ trope) but they’re all regrets that were of their own conscience making. They chose to kill, or be lecherous, or terrible in some other way and they knew it and they all regretted it. There was no one to guide them – everyone in authority was either non existent or corrupt in some way – and so this ‘modern’ world has to be navigated blind.
And that’s the problem. All this freedom is stifling. Nobody knows what to do. Nobody knows if they even have free-will. Nobody has an identity – except, of course, Sofia. Raskolnikov kills two people just to feel something, anything, to see what he’s ‘made of’, what his place in society is and when he gets to Siberia he finally feels free because he now knows his place. And he resents it, which is pretty funny and probably this joked is missed because the rest of the book is so damn depressing, but it’s funny that he hates it all but at least he knows what to hate. It’s a wonderful joke Dostoyevsky tells here and makes the rest of the book worth it.
So I’m not sure the book could have been written any different, but the claustrophobia of it all, the long soliloquy’s that, while fascinating, really go on and on and on and never really resolve anything – which is why it’s funny when Razumikhin says we’ll talk our way to the truth.
The fact Dostoyevsky was able to pull this novel off is a feat and makes the book earn its place as a true masterpiece. I personally don’t think I ever want to revisit it and I’m wary of reading more Dostoyevsky, but I loved that the book challenged me so much and it did have some wonderful moments that are truly unforgettable – the horse beating, the murders, anything concerning Svidrigailov.
As a student of human behavior (and I use the term cautiously after reading this book), Crime and Punishment is a must read for its psychology and for its art.
I loved it and I hated it; which is why it was almost perfect.