Friday, 30 December 2011

The Karamazov Brothers by Fyodor Dostoevsky (4/5)

The back says: As Fyodor Karamazov awaits an amorous encounter, he is violently done to death. The three sons of the old debauchee are forced to confront their own guilt or complicity. Who will own to patricide? The reckless and passionate Dmitri? The corrosive intellectual Ivan? Sure not the chaste novice monk Alyosha? The search reveals the divisions which rack the brothers, yet paradoxically unite them. Around the writhings of this one dysfunctional family Dostoevsky weaves a dense network of social, psychological and philosophical relationships. At the same time he shows – from the opening ‘scandal’ scene in the monastery to a personal appearance by an eccentric Devil – that his dramatic skills have lost nothing of their edge. The Karamazov Brothers, completed a few months before Dostoevsky’s death in 1881, remains for many the high point of his genius as novelist and chronicler of the modern malaise.

Note: I am aware of the fact that the title is mostly translated as The Brothers Karamazov. And this is translated by Constance Garnett.

I say: I can’t even know where to begin to review this book because, as seemingly always with these 800+ paged books, some of it I loved and some of it I didn’t love so much. I loved most of The Brothers Karamazov, so I’ll start with what kept this from getting the full 5/5.

First off, pretty much the entire section with Father Zosima. Although I can understand why Dostoevsky felt the need to put his story in there, it was boring because it was so full of religion and philosophy that wasn’t presented in an appealing way – in my opinion. I don’t mind reading books about philosophy or religion, but I felt like it was laid out a tad too thick.

The same goes with the closing arguments of both lawyers at the end of the trial. Far too many words and opinions and rehashing of events that we had already witnessed.

I could easily have removed 300 pages from this book without taking away anything from the plot.

And then unto what I loved, which was everything else. It’s weird to say that I love Dostoevsky’s writing since I’ve only read this, Poor People and Crime and Punishment (and that was years ago), but I really fell in love (again) with his style in this one. The way that he weaves all these characters’ lives together is amazing because it’s so unexpected. He’ll talk about a chance encounter with someone, and then a few chapters later start focusing on that person, and I kept asking myself why he’s focusing on someone that he previously merely mentioned, and then he reveals how integral this person actually is to the plot.

And then there’s that Russian wit – my, how I love it.

But to speak of the story itself, and the brothers Karamazov in particular; I loved the differences between them. My favourite was Alyosha, who at first came across as naïve and unworldly, but later on proved to know more of the world outside the monastery than we were lead to believe in the beginning. I strongly disliked both Dmitri and Ivan up until the very end; primarily because they were both so blinded by their own selfishness that they failed to recognise the consequences it brought on the rest of the family.

Although, I have to admit that Dmitri’s tendency to beat up anyone for no particular reason and then coming up with the most inane excuses was quite amusing.

Aside: I wonder what that says about me as a person.

And Fyodor Karamazov had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Oh, and yes yes yes to the Devil – he was a breath of fresh air.

I must say this, though, all of the female characters annoyed me, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. They all felt very stereotypical; like I could exchange them for any other female characters in other Russian novels and no one would notice.

It’s weird, that – I’ll have to do some research...

It feels like I’ll be moving into essay territory if I start talking about the religious and philosophical aspects of the novel, so I don’t really want to go there – even though I do. There are so many different opinions and schools of thought thrown in there that I think this book would be beneficial to anyone who’s interested in either of those fields. Like I said previously, in some chapters it takes up too much space, but throughout most of the novel it’s presented in a nice and integral way to the plot. I wrote down quite a few notes and quotes that I look forward to returning to in the future.

“People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that's a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that's all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it.” – p 178
And, as always and in conclusion, I love reading about Russia and Russians and their way of life and thinking – even if it is fiction.

I definately look forward to reading more Dostoevsky.

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