Dan Sandman

07: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

In Books, Crime, Fiction on 14/02/2014 at 12:00 pm

The Brothers Karamazovs by Fyodor DostoevskyI must confess, that as I write this week’s review, I am merely on page 634 of this epic, engrossing novel. This is the second time I have not quite been determined enough to accomplish my aim – “to read a book every week for a year and write about it here” – the first occasion being when I attempted The Portrait of A Lady by Henry James last October. Still, as I did in the previous case, today I will write my thoughts and publish to deadline at 12 o’ clock.

This classic novel is exciting, intelligent, deep and action-packed; brim full of melodrama, mystery, debate and detection. Despite the intimidating size and potentially confusing Russian names,  Dostoevsky is actually well suited to our modern sensibilities. Minus the contemporary trend for concise sentences and precisely focused plots, this massively fleshed out murder story still feels cutting edge.

Composed of four parts and originally released in magazine installments, this 19th century book uses many devices that we would recognize from today’s soap-operas; for example, cliffhangers, reveals and who-done-its. The themes are in some respects comic book too, both in terms of colourful presentation and topic. There are drinking binges, wads of money, dual pistols, family rows, ‘domestics’, maddened lovers and a host of other delightfully entertaining props and occurrences. But Dostoevsky really scores points, raising his story to great literary heights, when he uses his psychologically astute eye – for example, to talk of the mother’s influence on a character – and his intellectual knowledge to discuss the topics of his time.

The result of all the above is a riveting good yawn, with many further depths that would warrant further reading. Like Shakespeare, Dostoevsky portrays human emotions and character motivation in a brilliantly versatile way. He peers at all walks of society, from master to servant; from holy man to government official. Not afraid to veer off from the central plot, he is as canny when talking about schoolyard politics as he is when discussing socialism. From reading this one book, if only up to page 634, I have certainly learnt much about the late 19th century and the human soul. Once again, my pursuit of good fiction has lead to history, psychology, philosophy, and theology lessons.

Only one hundred and forty-two pages – plus a courtroom drama – to go.

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  1. I just read this book for the first time last year, and thought it packs a very good return on the considerable investment of time and energy it takes to get through it. It was so interesting that it was fairly easy to get through, despite being profound enough to be fairly demanding reading. Alyosha Karamazov is one of the most appealing characters I’ve come across in a long time.

    • Cool, when I finished it and took it back to the library yesterday, the librarian agreed that it’s worth the effort. You’re right, it is relatively easy going and has stood the test of time. I think it still works because it’s very entertaining and has a strong plot. Originally it would have been released in magazine installments – hence the cliffhangers. I wonder how receiving the story in parts would make it feel different? It would certainly feel lighter in weight than the door-stopper I was reading!

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