Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (5/5)

The back says: Prince Myshkin returns to Russia from an asylum in Switzerland. As he becomes embroiled in the frantic amatory and financial intrigues which centre around a cast of brilliantly realised characters and which ultimately lead to tragedy, he emerges as a unique combination of the Christian ideal of perfection and Dostoevsky's own views, afflictions and manners. His serene selflessness is contrasted with the worldly qualities of every other character in the novel. Dostoevsky supplies a harsh indictment of the Russian ruling class of his day who have created a world which cannot accomodate the goodness of this idiot.

I say: I cannot even know where to begin to explain how much I love this book, and how deeply I fell in love with Myshkin. This book is just pure perfection of immeasurable amounts of layers for discussion, it’s an instant favourite and I’m already looking forward to reading it again.

And again, and again, as it goes.

As with most things Dostoevsky, The Idiot deals with everything that concerns human life; religion, philosophy, love, hate, crime, revenge, society, class, etc. all set within the Russia that I have come to love (and long for) and presented with a language that is moving, witty, intelligent and just plain captivating.

I had a hard time putting this down, and even when I had finished it I wanted to start right over again.

One of the main questions is, as the title may reveal, whether or not Myshkin really is an idiot. I think every single character in the book both calls him an idiot at least once and then takes it back at a later stage. In my opinion, he was perhaps more of a simpleton than an idiot. He never told a lie, immediately felt remorse when he had inadvertently hurt someone, believed in the goodness in everyone, and even though he knew that people were taking advantage of him he didn’t feel the need to call them out on it. As I see it, the people in the novel were so cynical that, when faced with his honest and gentle nature, they were only able to liken him to a child or an idiot.

Yes, he did make a few mistakes, but they were all based on his trusting nature and want to please everyone.

There are, as with all of Dostoevsky’s novels, an abundance of carefully and brilliantly carved out characters – too many to mention here – and what I particularly love about them was their unpredictability. Well, some of them did act according to a specific formula, but there were so many twists and turns and secrets that I was so lost in the story I never wanted to get out. The basis of the plot is Myshkin returning to St Petersburg after spending some years in a Swiss institution. Soon after his arrival he becomes the central part in a couple of love triangles concerning a “fallen, kept woman” and a young girl from a very good family. Because of his kind and gentle nature he is unable to properly discern what to do, all the while being taken advantage of by not so innocent bystanders.

Did I mention that I love this?

The only two things that brought me some annoyance were when the narrator got too familiar (I cannot stand that) and when a dying young man had his last words to the world read out (it was just too much in one go). So, 5/5 for this masterpiece and I look I can’t wait to go back to Dostoevsky’s Russia to meet Myskin again.

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