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Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics)
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 13 December 2006
Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment is the first classic detective story. But that is not even where it excels. With the Brothers Karamazov, it elevated Dostoyevsky to a mega writer when it comes to dissecting the mind and soul of characters for the readers. It is a great book of psychology. While it competes with Anna Karenina as the most widely read 19th century Russian novel in the English-speaking world, it is judged by many to be superior in its depth and lessons. The book's hero exemplifies all young ideologues who are wrestling with a new idea which they think can elevate them to the levels of great historic figures in their initial steps towards greatness. Often, a barrier has to be crossed which takes the potential legendary figure into an irreversible course. In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov who is the hero is a poor, intelligent and thoughtful student who is convinced that he has a mission for the advancement of mankind. He convinces himself that the mission has to start with him crossing over to greatness by robbing and killing an old woman, a pawnbroker, whose death, he had convinced himself would do the world more good than harm. This conviction is based on his judgment that she cheats her clients and holds money that could be used for humanity. He then commits the murder, but is forced to kill the pitiful Elizabetha, the landlady's sister. The novel begins its twists and turns after these murders, with the introduction of the cunning detective who gets to investigate the murder and makes Raskolnikov his principal suspect. Raskolnikov gets to meet the destitute Marmeladovs through the alcoholic father, and is distraught by the plight of his consumptive mother, her three young children, and Sonya-Marmeladov's eighteen-year old daughter who is forced into prostitution in order to support the family.

By doing a rich psychology development of his characters, Dostoyevsky made his characters more complexly human, yet reachable. Sonya emerges as a saintly figure who sins for the sakes of those she loves , and who is the mirror through which the so-called devilish characters are redeemed. The plot is rich, deep, enjoyable and action-packed; and the pace is fast and engaging. The overriding strength of the story is the conflict in Raskolnikov's soul, a conflict which began in his quest to be the "Extraordinary Man" like Napoleon, by stepping over the basic bounds of morality by committing murder. That conflict in his soul brought out the rich ideas, discussions and emotions from the characters that interacted with him. I also enjoyed THE BROTHER KARAMAZOV,UNION MOUJIK
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 19 July 2010
I rarely read the long and wordy Introduction to these classics because they ruin the story for me, however I do recommend that you read it this time both before and AFTER the actual story.
The scholar, Keith Carabine, knows his onions, and his Dostoevsky. He addresses the fact that the ending is shocking because it is so poor and entirely at odds with the entire theme and mood of the novel.
It's as if the author had a sudden religious conversion or was told to make the book acceptable to the Russian Orthodox church: as the anti-hero, for no apparent reason, converts to Christianity having been a staunch atheist and cynic throughout.
Carabine also brings out Raskolnikov's dream of a plague of intelligent microbes turning man against man in a godless Universe which for me is prophetic as it predicts the chaos and turmoil of the post Tzar communist state; although this happened much later in 1917.
Crime and Punishment was written in 1866 and it reads as if it was written yesterday. It is very contemporary. The hero/anti-hero is an incredibly dark brooding character who is so detached from humanity that he is willing to execute an old woman (and her young niece) on a whim. This whim is his Nietzschean theory that some men are superior because they have truly novel, ground breaking, theories and influence: Darwin, Copernicus, and especially Napoleon; and these great men have the right to kill for a higher purpose because normal laws do not apply to them. He tests his theory and kills in cold-blood to provide him with a sum of money to enable his career to progress more easily. This is his crime. His punishment is the reaction of his own conscience (and his Soul) which he has effectively killed along with his victims. His life after his crime is hell on Earth, moral purgatory.
Dostoevsky writes beautifully and creates a masterful character who could be seen as the forerunner of all modern 'psycho's' such as Hannibal Lector et al; except Raskolnikov is no madman. Everything is logical and rational with him, and he does not kill with impunity; he pays for his crime through his deep self-hatred.
There is much of the author in the story. Dostoevsky's mother died of TB and the author served a prison term in Siberia for his philosophical views. Illness, the law and prison feature throughout the gripping narrative.
One negative is a tendency towards 'flowery' language and pages of pointless social interaction particularly when Raskolnikov is absent: he is the star that makes this a great book!
The only flaw is the epilogue. It's a bolt-on ending that turns a gritty, realistic human tragedy into a fairy tale.
It is however a classic written by a master of the psychological thriller.
Not a single swear word, curse or reference to carnal activities in the entire work!
Quite something!
JP ;)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2005
This is without question a psychological masterpiece. If you wish to know more about yourself and the nature of what it is to be human when tested to the outer limits of human endurance, then you must read this book. The full gamut of human emotions are on show and are totally, beautifully, hideously and above all realistically realised in Dostoyevsky's bleak Russian world.
How does crime come about, Nature vs. Nurture, given abject poverty? Can a good man commit a heinous crime or by definition is he not capable of such? Can any man commit any crime given the environment? Can the end ever justify the "ultimate" means, that of taking life? How does one define man; what do absolutes, like good and evil actually signify, when looking at the complexities of the human condition? What represents punishment? How does mans consciousness, morals and soul form a part of the physical realities of evasion, capture and punishment in the committing and aftermath of a crime? What is redemption? When crimes are horrific, can one ever find redemption or is there a point of no return?
These are just some of the great questions in life that the book raises whilst telling a story of great but bleak magnitude. A story of truly lifelike engaging characters, struggling with their own demons in a world of awful social depravity and squalor.
This book has a dynamic between characters that is very, very rarely seen; in this regard it is an outstanding piece of literature. You feel the tension in the air, the sincerity, the insincerity the asides, self justifications, moral prejudices etc that occur between real people. You feel their words you do not simply read them!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2007
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 23 March 2011
I have read 'Crime and Punishment' twice: in my teens and now twenty years later. It is the story of an impoverished ex-student who shuts himself away in his dingy bedsit and cooks up a theory that the great men of history are above the law, then sets out to prove himself one of them by committing murder. In my teens I probably romanticised Raskolnikov: now I find him grandiose, sullen, callous and self-deluded, and yet I still felt anxious for him as he went to pieces within his self-justifications. It is Dostoevsky's acute psychological understanding that makes this book such a gripping read. Raskolnikov does not engage with life itself, but with his ideas about it. Essentially, his crime is that he has set himself apart from humankind; he is to all intents and purposes dead to the world. (In this sense his crime brings its own punishment.) He only returns to life when he finally acknowledges Sonya and at last shows himself capable of true fellow-feeling.
This novel may be a classic but that does not mean it is not contemporary. Undoubtedly the world has its share of Raskolnikovs, but there are many more 'ordinary' people out there feeling increasingly disconnected from life. Anyone with big ideas about the' Big Society' (or just having to live with the consequences of them) ignores this book at their peril!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2014
Crime and Punishment is set in Russia in the 1800's. It is written from the perspective of the protagonist Raskolnikov; a young student. Despite its reputation as being hard going, I found it easy to read and impossible to put down.

Due to financial hardship and circumstance Raskolnikov commits murder. Russia was economically and politically unstable at the time of writing and one of the greatest arguments in favor of socialism is that, if people were equal would crime be eliminated? Would the reason for acting criminally no longer exist? The novel spreads this message, without focusing politics as a major theme. Drawing upon the writings of Marx and Engels, Russia became Communist in 1917 under Lenin, succeeded by Stalin after Lenin's death in 1925.

As the title suggests the crime - one man murdering another and; punishment - the guilt, paranoia, mental deterioration and then incarceration are the major themes, the content of the entire novel. Other plot-lines such as romance take a significant back seat. Love does indeed suffer as a consequence of the crime, part of the punishment I guess.

A tale of love, justice, psychology and suffering; this is a wonderful read, and despite what Willy Mason says, you should read Dostoevsky at your age.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 October 2009
When William Faulkner was asked what are the three greatest novels ever written, he answered 'Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina.' I say 'Crime and Punishment, Crime and Punishment, Crime and Punishment. I read it for the first time in the old Penguin Classics translation by David Magyarshak when I was 19 and it blew my mind away. I was Raskolnikov; ain't we all! I resisted re-reading it for years, frightened it wouldn't be the same, until I read it again at 38, 19 years later, in the current Penguin Classics version translated by David McDuff and benefitted greatly from the excellent textual notes in that edition, which provide a lot of valuable and detailed information on the intellectual, political and historical contexts of the novel. Now at 44, I have just finished reading the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. I have no Russian, but this is the one to read. This is intuitive, of course, but it reads as the story feels in ways that the other two versions I have read do not. My second reading didn't recapture the incandescence of my first encounter with the book. The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation did. I felt like I was getting the book for the first time (again!) Now for their Karamazov!
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2007
This is a good novel but an appalling translation. The defective language ranges from the grammatically incorrect to the virtually incomprehensible (I only found out what the question "Do you funk the police office?" was supposed to mean when I checked another edition). More generally, it is a jarring and clumsy read. By all means buy Crime and Punishment, but if you want to enjoy it, make sure to buy a different edition (Note that there is also a paperback edition by the same translator).
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 11 October 2013
At times appears to be rambling ~ I'm guessing this is due to its time and a certain Russian obsession with the soul ?
The study itself of a pathological mind in conflict with an oversensitivity is classic and at the same time unique.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 16 May 2010
I'll start this review with a disclaimer: if you're looking for something that's easy to read, this book isn't it. It's a stifling, sometimes claustrophobic, insight into a complex mind.

The story itself is quite simple. A self-obsessed young student named Raskolnikoff makes a theory about how some men are above the law due to their contribution of new ideas that will benefit the world at large, which makes them exempt from punishment from deeds that are usually considered evil. The book is more of a psychological study of the motivations and stream of thoughts behind the characters' acts.

The characters were what made this book enjoyable for me. Dostoyevsky manages to make us feel like we're inside their heads, walking in their shoes, feeling their anguish. It was just really fascinating to get such an in-depth understanding of such a complex situation. I am by no means an expert on criminal psychology, but I am aware of the fact that we are usually given (and usually look for) rather simple explanations for criminal acts - passion, poverty, madness, etc. This book demystifies that idea completely.

Overall, I found it quite enjoyable and interesting, and happily recommend it.
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