Three star review, originally posted here on April 44, 2022.
According to two minutes of extensive Wikipedia research, Dostoevsky himself thought this book was a failure. As did virtually every contemporary critic. Which makes me feel better for just not getting into this. I saw someone as on the discussion board when this book starts to get interesting, and the answer was “it never does.” That is 100% accurate. This book is a very slow burn. It feels like its being made up as it goes along, and, as it turns out, that’s exactly how Dostoevsky wrote it! It’s long and slow and you could zone out for two hours and zone back in and find out your characters are still sitting in the exact same parlor having the exact same conversation. If you’re a big fan of extensive detailed dialogue, then this is totally your jam. If you prefer, I dunno… a story or plot of some sort, then maybe not so much.
All that being said, I didn’t hate it. Three stars! Nice and neutral. The book had plenty going for it. One chief complaint by contemporary critics was that the book is very uneven, and that is definitely the case. Being uneven means, though, that it has its moments. Some of the characters were pretty interesting (though I did heavily rely on study guides to keep them straight- there are a lot of them, and Russian names confuse me). I found Nastasya Filippovna pretty compelling. I couldn’t care less about the overarching story (or lack thereof), but there are several side stories and flashbacks that were interesting enough. And it was interesting watching each character in turn react to our protagonist as they get to know him (most of this was early in the book).
If you’re a fast reader, this one’s worth a quick peruse. But if, like me, you’re a slow reader and it takes ages to get through long books, then maybe just find a couple excerpts online somewhere to get the gist. Or do what I did and turn on the audiobook while doing chores, then zone out completely out of sheer boredom and check study guides to figure out what the heck is happening when you zone back in.
Final note: There’s a reason why Crime and Punishment is considered Dostoevsky’s masterpiece instead of this. Definitely go read that one.