Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment: A Rewarding Mammoth of a Book For me, Crime and Punishment was my introduction to Russian Literature. After hearing multiple references to it in other books and TV shows, I knew I had to give it a go. It was also the only question I got wrong on a 'Who wrote these classic books?' quiz shared in my school bookclub's Facebook page. And what I found was not what I expected.
For a quick synopsis, it follows the thoughts and moral debates of Raskolnikov, a young student who murdered a elderly pawn broker and her sister. It's frequently ranked highly on 'Top 100 books' lists, and is a lovely 551 pages of deep, philosophical thinkings, debates and self justification of a murderer. You might be thinking this is going to be terribly hard to read, people often pair it with 'War and Peace', but honestly, it was very, very readable. My translation (Pevear and Volokhonsky) allowed it to be clearly old fashioned in it's sense (obviously), but also made it unbelievably readable.
I'm not going to lie, it was a struggle in places. There, to be honest, isn't that much plot. It's more Raskolnikov's internal debate over whether to turn himself in, and whether it was 'right' to kill the pawnbroker, comparing himself to Napoleon many times. The names, for me, were also a small struggle, Dostoevsky constantly jumps between their last name, and the combination of their first/middle names, oh, and nicknames. This confused me a certain points, and I'd definitely recommend having a character list next to you for the first half!
The character of Raskolnikov, is undoubtedly, one of the most well developed characters I've ever read about. Why? The whole book is about him, but not in the sense that I know every little bit of his childhood. While you read, you and he almost become fused, where Dostoevsky describes his thought processes as such that you feel like you're reading his actual mind. You feel like you're him. This is why it's so readable. Many books I've read focus on problematic situations, and follow a character's mindset about it all, but I've never read anything that does it to this extent. It's a fusion between reader and character that I've never experienced before.
While I've prattled on a bit about Raskolnikov, I should mention the more secondary characters, all of which have their own backstories, and you even feel like you understand them, even though they're blatantly secondary characters. Svidrigailov, I personally found to be really interesting. Some of his monologues are amazing, and really capture what it's like to be almost obsessive over someone.
One criticism I do have, and what I've seen others mention, is the epilogue. It starts out well, detailing Raskolnikov's trial, but it ends in a place that seems too nice. After you've read 500 heart-felt pages of self-hatred and confusion, you end in a place that seems too happy, and seems too calm. You no longer hear the confused thoughts of Raskolnikov, and it ends on a subdued but promising note. I'm not saying it's awful, nor is it in anyway bad, it's just too different in my mind from the rest of the book.
Ultimately, Crime and Punishment is a book that grips you hard and doesn't let go until you've heard all the story. I even abandoned homework for this book. It's a hard, a times confusing book, but by far it is the most rewarding book I've read, the most beautifully complex book that pushes you so much into another person's psychology. It definitely has pushed me to read more of Russian Lit, even if it is a fraction of the greatness of Crime and Punishment.