As I wrote before, I’m doing a big Russian Literature challenge this year. Each month, I will be reading a Russian classic. My first book was Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevski.

Now, I was not sure what to expect of Crime and Punishment. My two most literary friends both feel very different about Dostoyevksi and during the whole reading process they were sitting on my shoulders like some kind of little angel and devil.
In the end, they were both right.

Crime and Punishment is an amazing book. For about 300 of the 800 pages. There are fragments that are absolutely sublime and there are long passages that I did not care for at all. Which makes it really hard to say whether I thought it was a good book or not, because it can differ from page to page.

To me, the great parts of this book can mostly be found within the main storyline (now, to explain this, I am going to have to give some spoilers, but this book is more than 150 years old so guess what: deal with it. You’ve had more than enough time by now to have read it). The opening parts, with Raskolnikov making his plans and eventually the actual murder, are wonderfully intense. Dostoyevski really takes us along in the mind of the main character, making this a psychological masterwork.

And then, suddenly, after the murders, is becomes crap. We stop reading about what is going on in Raskolnikov’s mind. We get to read long parts about other storylines that I don’t care about. This dude has just committed a murder and you’re dragging on about his sister’s marriage? Come on! And we know there’s some cool stuff going on in Raskolnikov’s head because he keeps doing things that make it very clear that he is being tormented by guilt. But nevertheless, we don’t get to know how he feels.

Only when the police starts to find out Raskolnikov is the murderer it starts getting better again, mostly thanks to the wonderful interrogation scenes. But once Raskolnikov is sentenced to work in Siberia, I lost every interest again: he completely shuts himself off, even from the reader, and we end with some kind of weird anti-climax.

Now, do these bad parts mean that this is a bad book? No, because the amazing parts are so good it is impossible for me to call this a bad book. So do the good parts make this a good book? I don’t know that either. When I’m really enthusiastic about a book, I’m happy about every part of it. And I can’t say that I like everything about Crime and Punishment. So I guess I still don’t know whether I like this book or not.

4 thoughts on “About ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Dostoyevski

    1. Well, I don’t speak Russian, so I would not know this on a more linguistic level, but based on the plot I’d go for “Schuld en boete,” because it focusses more on the psychological aspect of the novel instead of making it some kind of detective. The problem for Raskolnikov is not that he committed a crime (“Misdaad”), but that he feels guilty about having done this (“Schuld”). It is also not really relevant that he gets punished, his punishment is actually not that severe considering his crime, but that his punishment helps him come to peace with himself.

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