19 May 2008

200-word review: 'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Having loved ‘Crime and Punishment’ when I was 17, I had high expectations for ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ – I thought it would be as compelling as Dostoyevsky’s earlier, more famous work. Alas, ‘Crime and Punishment’ is more famous for a reason. ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ is nearly as boring as ‘Don Quixote’.

The story is of a father, Fyodor, and his three adult sons, Mitya, Ivan and Alyosha. Fyodor and Mitya have an ongoing feud over money and a woman who is mistress to both. Fyodor is murdered, and Mitya is blamed. After the murder, the novel is quite engaging, reading like a whodunnit-cum-courtroom drama, but leading up to the murder it is convoluted and frustratingly dull. I think the problem is that Dostoyevsky uses the novel to comment on contemporary Russian society and draws in a lot of unnecessary characters and subplots, padding out a simple murder tale to a 900-page bore. Perhaps the social comment was riveting at the time, but as I had no contextual knowledge, it was lost on me.

If you know about and are interested in 19th century Russia then this might be the book for you. If not, I suggest you give it a miss!

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