This week I read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, another book from a Russian well-known author. Another long one where I thought “why did they ever decide to pay by the word?”
Crime and Punishment focuses on Rodion Raskolnikov, a student fallen on hard times – through his own fault it appears – who murders a pawnbroker for her money. He justifies the act by arguing he will use the money for good and at the same time read society of a criminal.
The book really keeps us real close to Rasklonikov and his mental and moral justification and then anguish about his action. It really feels like an internal monologue throughout somehow.
It’s a fascinating story because of the moral/mental journey of the character. He comes from a place where he believes some men have it in their nature to kill, maybe all of them, to a situation where he feels compelled to confess a crime that would otherwise have been unsolvable.
In the end, the punishment isn’t so much prison but rather his conscience nagging at him – in the form of a lovely woman whom he is fond of (not only but that’s one).
There’s also a constant struggle in the character between his compassion his propensity to being generous and helpful and his contempt for those who are a ‘burden’ on society. One example sticks to mind; he will follow a young lady and call a policeman to ensure she’s returned home safely when it’s obvious she’s been assaulted even gives the policeman 20 kopecs that really are all his fortune and then as if it were something wrong tells the policeman that neither of them should care. After all she should have looked after herself. A contradictory character that moves from the one extreme to the next in little more than a few short words.
That being said, did it have to be so long? It seems to me the story would have been just as compelling in half the number of words. It’s another book where my mind wandered sometimes far and away from the story because I couldn’t stick to it. Too verbose; again maybe the translation has something to do with it, but I blame the newspapers for paying by the word. It enticed authors in every country to write way too long stories with too many digressions (Victor Hugo I’m looking at you 😛 ) or too many words for things that could be said in half as many.
It’s still a great story with vivid characters, powerful themes and discussions. No wonder it’s on the list. But really how can anybody expect this book to be in the body of study of pupils? It’s massive and not easy.
Have you read it?
What did you think?