Firstly I should say that I haven't read this translation. My own is by Constance Garnett (as recommended by Italo Calvino). To give a vague idea of what the difference in their style might be, here's the opening line from each; 'At the beginning of July, during a spell of exceptionally hot weather, towards evening...' McDuff. 'On an exceptionally hot evening in July...' Garnett. So, I suppose it might be that Garnett tends to be more concise. I've read McDuff's translation of The Idiot, though, and he's obviously a wonderful translator. So I'd recommend either. Just read it. Anyway,
Dostoyevsky's writing style is often insanely manic. He launches from the vigorously bleak to the maniacally funny in the space of a page, he creates grotesque scenes of exaggerated madness and then relates an almost saccharine moment of tenderness. The introduction to Brothers Karamazov notes, 'Dostoyevsky will frequently use the same word four or five times in one paragraph and then never use it again.' His style and all of his great books are mad dashes and, if you're prepared to go along with it, they grab you by the throat and put you truly through the wringer. Crime and Punishment does all of these things. It is also the most remarkable psychological portrait I've ever encountered.
How many times have you heard the comment, 'I was surprised by how contemporary it reads. Like it could have been written yesterday.'? It's rarely true. Crime and Punishment really does have that rare power, that cold, almost frightening ability to touch a nerve and it does so through Dostoyevsky's unique and unlikely ability to slide absolute clarity through what is often crazy, messy prose. It feels contemporary and modern because it asks a question that is always pertinent.
Raskolnikov decides to kill an old lady pawnbroker. He does. He smashes her over the head with the blunt edge of an axe. When the pawnbroker's half sister, Lizaveta, walks in on him he kills her to. He soon falls into a fever. He falls for Sonia, the beleaguered daughter of the Marmelodov home. He is tended in his illness by a friend, Razhumihim, and suspected of murder by Inspector Porfiry. His mother and sister turn up with a steaming pile of bad news all of their own and the sinister paedophile and murderer Svidrigailov soon follows them to Petersberg.
Though all the complications of the narrative are compelling and important, the dominant question which runs through the novel is simply, why did he do it? I may be demonstrating a warped interpretation of the text, but finding my own answer to this was one of the most revelatory realisations of my life. Raskolnikov presents a few of his own `motives' to Sonia and Porfiry. He says it was in demonstration of a Napoleon complex- basically, some people are so insignificant they deserve to die, while those men of greatness have every right to kill if it is necessary for their survival. Raskolnikov doesn't actually believe this. To Sonia he says it was to prove whether he was capable of performing such a bold act of finality, to prove that he is more than a `louse', like everyone else. He dismisses this as absurd. The reason he did it, I think, was simply to do it. Tolstoy said, `Nothing is without consequence and nothing is important.' Raskolnikov killed those women in an impotent attempt to stop consequence, to free himself from the ceaseless and boring repetition of motion then its consequence, ad infinitum, and because this is impossible he becomes sick and confused immediately after the murders, immediately it becomes obvious that he has stopped nothing, that he has not come out of this act unshackled and unburdened from the obviousness of life. He could not admit this motive to himself beforehand because its futility would have halted him. He realises that there is nothing to be done. We act and that act has consequences and those consequences fill the details of our life. And that is all. His acceptance of this is responsible for the eerily placid, calm passages that end the novel and, to my mind, this pacification of Raskolnikov has absolutely nothing to do with any Christian fervour, as many suggest.
This is an amazing novel. Come to your own conclusions.