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Nov 2010
The Karamazov Brothers - Fyodor Dostoevsky tr. Ignat Avesy - Oxford World's Classics, 2008
* *
Okay, so here's the set-up. In a small neighbourhood where everybody knows everybody else, a rich, dissolute man has three sons. The eldest, a hot-blooded good-for-nothing who hates his father for stealing his inheritance (as he sees it), was engaged to an heiress but has broken it off because he has fallen in love with a beautiful young woman. Which is a problem because his father also fancies her. The middle son, a cold-blooded intellectual, is attracted to the eldest son's ex. Who, it appears, still has feelings for the eldest son. Meanwhile, the beautiful young woman cannot decide between the financial and social security that the father would give her and the rather more exciting charms of the son.

It could almost be an episode of Eastenders, couldn’t it? Admittedly, the youngest son, Alyosha, introduces a religious element that you wouldn't normally find in that particular show, being a trainee priest who is in thrall to an elderly mystic called Zosima. And the father, eldest son, middle son, heiress and young woman are called respectively Fyodor, Dmitry, Ivan, Katya and Grushenka, so we are definitely in Russia. Still, the small-town setting, dramatic situations and sheer emotionalism of the characters are purest soap opera, and I suspect that my dislike of the irrational romanticism that is that genre's modus operandi explains why I didn't get on with this book.
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30 July 2005
Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky - Vintage 2004
* * * * *
I saw a television adaptation of this last year, and was somewhat annoyed by the director's decision to film it in a Dogme style using hand-held wobbly camera work and extreme close-ups, which struck me as an artistically pretentious attempt to sex up a staid Victorian novel. Having now read the book, I have to say that it was actually an appropriate style - Dostoevsky's extreme emotionalism means that the book has a febrile, frenetic atmosphere which could not have been conveyed through conventional settled camera work. My misunderstanding was natural though, for Crime and Punishment is about as unconventional a Victorian novel as you could possibly imagine.
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