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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly gripping novel, focusing on the psychological anguish of existential/ethical nihilism., 23 April 2008
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I don't usually read novels and was worried that "Notes from Underground" would be one of those "books that get recommended because they are difficult to understand and make you sound intelligent". Not at all. This is the best novel I have ever read in my life: a thorough, lucid analysis of what it means to be existentially and ethically nihilistic. Being philosophically-minded (though not educated), I found it very easy to read and literally couldn't put it down.

The nameless anti-hero ("Underground Man") despises the way that humans want to flaunt their arrogance, put on a performance for others, and judge others based on their performances rather than their intellect alone.

The more intelligent you are, the more you realise the deterministic and relativistic nature of life and ethics and the lack of objective knowledge... and the less capable you are of being resolute and certain, or even blaming anyone for their actions. Intellect does not allow you to rise above evolution or "the anthill" of society; it merely constrains you to a life of inaction and inner torment, and the realisation of the limitations of being human.

Human nature is, in many ways, quite despicably egocentric. But, in a deterministic world, revenge and justice are meaningless concepts. Underground Man struggles with this (and the realisation that he is as egocentrically abhorrent as anyone else), and tries to demonstrate his freedom by acting irrationally: to seek a form of personal justice not for its own sake, but purely in order to gain comfort from the humiliation of others. He craves understanding and recognition of his anguish about the futility of life, yet realises that in getting it he will drag others down to his level of despair, rather than pull himself out.

The book (which I borrowed) was so good that I immediately wanted to buy a copy to re-read, and I have had a (very brief) look at some of the various translations available. I have to admit to being disappointed with many of them, and would very strongly recommend Jessie Coulson's translation. Her words just flow naturally and sound like a fluent non-native speaker, rather than trying to use common English phrases at the cost of punchy clarity. I've seen another review that recommends the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. I have not come across this, but will certainly hunt this down to see how it compares.

Dostoyevsky was clearly a genius. I have not read any of his other books, and I have my doubts as to whether they can possibly be as good as Notes from Underground, but there's only one way to find out...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two Twos Four But Man Is Still Man, 21 Sep 2008
This review is from: Notes From Underground (Paperback)
"Give me man" was Oblomov's cry in Goncharov's novel Oblomov. That is exactly the same clamor from Dostoyevsky's narrator. Well then, who is man? Who am I - mind or spirit? Should my life follow reason's path or should I follow my heart? This reminds me so much of Nietszche's Human, All Too Human. The narrator is extremely self-critical. He's mean and malicious, he tells lies, takes bribes and is more intelligent than anyone else around. He refutes rational economic man and just celebrates man - the whole man complete with his wilful (and perhaps destructive?) desires. Incidentally, Dostoyevsky revisits the arguments of reason versus spirit in Crime and Punishment. The last third of this book is about the narrator's seduction of a prostitute. This part is a wee bit dull after the dizzying and dazzling pace of what goes before.

Overall, an impressive story.
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Notes From Underground
Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Paperback - 21 Oct 1993)
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