Though I wasn’t due to finish Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment via DailyLit until next week, I decided to go ahead and finish today. I really wanted to like this book. It’s one of those books you hear a lot about. It’s one of those books people like to say they’ve read. I should preface this review by saying that I’ve read very few Russian classics. I tried to read Dr. Zhivago; my sister Lara is named after Yuri Zhivago’s love interest. I couldn’t get into it, even though I loved the movie. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (review), and I really didn’t like it all that much, although I found the concept intriguing.
The central character of Crime and Punishment is Raskolnikov, a student in St. Petersburg who murders a pawn broker and her sister with an axe. Most of the book centers around his mental state both before and after the crime. I had a great deal of difficulty with the names. Some of the characters have nicknames, which made it nearly impossible for me to keep up with the characters. I’m sure this is purely a cultural-based confusion because if a character in a book were named William but variously called Will, Willie, or Bill by other characters, I doubt I’d have trouble. However, in a book with names that are already challenging for me to keep straight, I found myself quickly confused, and I think that confusion hampered my enjoyment of the novel. I might have done better to read a version with more notes. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the end result is that I’ve been put off Dostoyevsky. I’m not sure I’d want to try another book of his after not enjoying this one, especially when I think about the large number of books in the world I could read instead that I might truly enjoy. I found parts of the book compelling—the murder scene, Svidrigailov’s death, a fight among some of the women (whose characters I confess I had the most difficulty keeping straight) in the middle of the book, and the end—but these moments were few. Most of the book I found hard to get through both because of my confusion and because the story was not grabbing my interest. I had already reached what I call “the point of no return” before I decided I didn’t like the book. The “point of no return” is the point at which you’ve read so far into the book that you feel you should just go ahead and finish. I really, really wanted to like this book, which is why I pushed myself up to that point. When I realized I didn’t like it, I felt sad. I have so rarely been disappointed by classics.
My next novel from DailyLit will be Gulliver’s Travels, a much shorter novel, and one I have neglected. I was supposed to have read it in high school, but I found it difficult to understand at that age. I think I will enjoy it better twenty years on from the last time I tried to pick it up. It’s a British book, which will enable me to continue to the next level in the Typically British Challenge.