Thursday, May 16, 2013

How I Finished Reading Crime and Punishment

Well, I managed to finish it.  

That really is the only lasting impression that I've kept regarding Crime and Punishment.  Kind of sad, considering that the book is actually quite well written & Dostoevsky obviously is familiar with mental anguish.  And considering that I adored War & Peace (the other Russian doorstop that it's super cool to brag about having read.)  Actually I love many 19th century Russian authors...Tolstoy, Pushkin, Turgenev...but Dostoevsky?  Not so much.

What is it, then?  I'll tell you this: I have the same experience when I read Dickens.  Eerily similar experiences, actually.  I think it might have something to do with hope.

Tolstoy, for all his disillusionment with social structures and relationships, seeks purpose and meaning.  Pushkin, though his tales often revolve around a disaster, gives you the sense of noble pride - that all the drama is the essence of life!  Turgenev can seem rather disillusioned and fatalistic, but under it all is the feeling that there is a worthwhile purpose somewhere...if he could just find it.

But Dostoevsky?  No.  Face it, baby, life stinks.  Filth, poverty, wretchedness and debase behavior of all sorts, and then you die.  There might be the occasional angelic spectre, but that's not reality! Nobody can really live like that...because for every innocent being there are dozens of miserable ones greedy enough to steal their joy, and the sooner you come to terms with that, the better off you'll be.

So, maybe it has something to do with hope.  Or maybe it's because I'm not a fan of psychological dramas.  In any case, I had a difficult time getting through this one.  I had the suggested translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky (their translation of Anna Karenina was quite enjoyable) but had the hardest time staying focused.

When I reached the 2/3 point of the book and stalled out, I knew I was in trouble.  I gave up reading Dickens' Our Mutual Friend at the 2/3 point, as well as Irving's Owen Meany.  I have built a miniature track record for not finishing books that I've mostly finished.  I needed to come up with a solution, and quick - before my inaction became a default action.

I went to Audible, figuring that if someone was reading aloud AND I was reading along, it would be much more difficult to let myself get distracted.  After one false start (when I accidentally bought this version instead of the one I actually wanted) I was successful.  It worked.  And let me tell you, the story and the writing were actually pretty interesting after all, when translated by Constance Garnett and read aloud to me.  But what work it took to get me there!

Sigh.  And now, having read both The Eternal Husband and Crime and Punishment, I think I may safely say that it will be quite some time before I feel the need to read more Dostoevsky.  It doesn't bode well for Dickens either.  My apologies to all the fans.


  1. Audiobooks have help me get through difficult classics, too. I have C & P on my new Classics Club spin list and I'm kind of hoping #7 doesn't get chosen.

    1. I need to get my spin list together! I enjoyed having that deadline last time...I don't know when I would have gotten around to The Beautiful and Damned otherwise. I don't know what my #7 will end up being, but I'll be hoping it doesn't get picked for your sake. ;)

  2. Some books you just have to read so you can say you've read them. That was how it was with Wuthering Heights, Moby Dick and some others that aren't coming to mind at the moment. Gawd, Moby Dick was painful but I read it! LOL.

    1. oh geez Moby Dick...that hasn't even made it off of my "I don't care if I haven't read it" list (I blame that one on my dislike of oceans...not a good idea to read it, right?) I agree though, some books you just have to buckle down and do it. I'm glad I did - but don't want to do it again any time soon!


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