Pseudo-intellectuals the world over name-drop Dostoevsky to impress their lesser-minded peers; maybe I fall into the second category, because reading ‘Crime And Punishment’ made me feel like a cat playing with a ball of yarn. While Dostoevsky unwound his story through the house, I chased after it, trying to make it stop for a minute so I could figure out what the hell was going on.
Sure, the murder scene was intense. But it takes place seventy pages into the story, and the next four hundred just drag. Raskolnikov, the killer, fumbles around feeling guilty and everyone around him seems moments from yelling, “It was you!” Then, crammed into the last dozen pages or so, old Raskol goes and turns himself in. The end.
To give credit where credit’s due, Dostoevsky writes emotion really well. You feel Raskolnikov’s guilt and terror, sympathizing with him when he justifies his crime and almost rooting for him while all the jerks around him are trying to get him to confess. None of his characters are unimportant, either; he delves into their motives with abandon, never leaving you to doubt exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing. Unfortunately most of this exposition is in the form of dialogue. Most of the action scenes in ‘Crime And Punishment’ are people walking from place to place, and then they sit down and have a lengthy, lengthy chat, until you’re drowning in it and start to forget who’s saying what.
My main gripe with everything I’ve read by Dostoevsky is that he starts with such good ideas, but his streams-of-consciousness style dampens the effect. About three-quarters into the book, another character, Sonia, gets framed for stealing. The girl endures a few pages of haranguing before an eyewitness calls her accuser out as a liar. It would have been a clever bit of contrast if she’d been punished for a crime she didn’t commit.
Come to that, Raskolnikov should have gotten off scot-free. Maybe Dostoevsky wasn’t trying to satirize the justice system and I missed the entire point of the story, but I think a less straightforward plot would have made the book more compelling. Don’t expect any surprises; the title gives it all away. Crime and lots of talking and then punishment.