Thursday, October 26, 2006

Crime and Punishment

Salvation lies within ourselves, for we live in a world that had been self-generated by the coming together of atoms; particles of matter that move within an infinite variety but without an overall, purpose or design.
Ancient Roman Epicureans
It has to be said, at least by me, that when I began this famed novel by Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, Notes from the Underground) in a park in Wales with a six-pack of Guinness cold in my hands, I rather loved the beginning and the way the crime spoken of is immediately discussed unlike in The Brothers Karamazov. That I liked. However, somewhere in the middle, the story does get slow and mundane. Fortunately, it gets back on the train and makes for a convincing classic.

What makes this book a good read, even with the hundred translations, is the underlying pace and message of the work. It would be fair to say that Dostoyevsky was well ahead in his time in portraying the inner tempest of men from all walks of life and was even a philosopher of sorts. Nietzsche was quite a fan; and with good reason. Some say that the works of this Russian writer are highly melodramatic but finishing this novel, I have to say that the over-sensualisation of his works were perhaps carried out with making a strong impression on the reader since most of his works are about symbolism, salvation and existentialism. Being a forerunner in his field, he was bound to appear contrived. He was only human and a Russian at that.

The beginning of Crime and Punishment introduces us to Raskolnikov, a student who is living in St. Petersburg and who is facing financial difficulties. To get the simple luxuries of a meal and a roof above his head, the young man is forced to plan and carry out the murder of an old and unkind pawnbroker, Alyona Ivanovna, and her innocent sister Lizaveta. He did not intend to kill Lizaveta but her interruption during the targeted murder brings her end as well. What follows is a series of paranoia, illness, depression and distrust as Raskolnikov suspects that everyone he comes into contact with suspects him of murdering the old moneylender, a murder that is the talk of the town.

There are various subplots in the novel as well involving the Marmeladova family, whom Raskolnikov comes into contact while planning the murder, and his own mother and sister – Dounya. However, the main theme of the novel is very much to do with Raskolnikov and his guilt and how he tries to justify his errors and construct escapes out of his awaiting punishment.

The novel is quite paced and accurately depicts the terror of a guilty man but is at times repetitive and over-indulgent with its own premises, so much so that one could be forgiven for predicting the climax. I rather like the end because of the way it reconciles Raskolnikov with his sanity and a partner, showing that if one takes the pains of redeeming himself of his sins then he can come across the flood of punishment as a changed and better man.

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