This is a short story, some 92 pages in my copy, but it does pack a lot into said pages so it took me much longer to read than I anticipated. I'd class it as deliciously difficult.
This is Dostoevsky writing both stream of consciousness and existentialism (how's that for a combination!) in a combination that I've never seen before.
From Amazon :
Isolated from society in a tenement basement in St. Petersburg, a malicious former civil servant vents his resentments. In the rambling notes that follow, we are exposed to the inner turmoil of the Underground Man, who represents the voice of his generation. An emotional, paranoid knot of contradictions, the spiteful narrator is also desperate to join a society he loathes, if only to prove his superiority to it.
Exploring themes of free will versus determinism, Dostoyevsky’s existential exploration was written to challenge increasingly popular Western egoist philosophies. In the Underground Man, he found the embodiment of the antihero, whose behaviour—like all human behaviour—defies rationalization.
So, the book is called Notes from Underground because we are reading the notes of a man who feels that he forms the underground. It does ramble, like the thoughts of a man (stream of consciousness) and ponders his own and other's behaviour (existentialism). The prose is amazing and it's worth reading for just that alone.
I'd recommend this even although it would be difficult to read for the average (like me) reader.
My copy is the Wordsworth Classics one, complete and unabridged, containing the banned chapter 9 and translated by Constance Garnett. It is seen by some critics (it says on the back) as Dostoevsky's masterpiece. I can't comment on that because I haven't read his other work.
This book is long, almost 700 pages and the story proper doesn't start until page 600. Thus it requires a bit of stamina to get there but once there the reader is rewarded with multiple murders and much drama. The prose is marvellous and that's what kept me reading. There is a wealth of characters (around 50) and some of the main players have two different names that they are referred to e.g. the first character we are introduced to is Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky. Most of the time he is referred to as Stepan Trofimovitch but sometimes as Verhovensky. This can be confusing and I found the constant using of first names and second names when referring to a character distracting too e.g. even with dialogue Stepan Trofimovitch was referred to as Stepan Trofimovitch, and just when you were getting used to this he would be referred to as Verhovensky. Some characters only have one name so there's a lot to get a hold of.
The story is based on a real life murder and the characters are written about extensively. Some get away and some don't. I did not guess the ending, which was good for me.
I found this tough going and somewhat dense to get into but once I was there it was marvellous.
Recommended but only if you are willing to make an effort.
The Adolescent (or The Raw Youth) - Fyodor Dostoevsky - 1875
I love classics. Besides English classic authors like Jane Austen and George Eliot I probably like the Russians best. After reading (and loving) Anna Karenina, a Russian friend recommended this one. And I was not disappointed. The description of the simple life in Russia about 150 years ago is very interesting. Also, you can imagine how the revolution started and why some things in history happened the way it did.
If you like Russian classics, read it.
I started a thread on this in January, it was lost.
I picked up Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead in a charity shop in Epsom, where I had half an hour to idle away before the next bus. I was so gripped by the opening that I continued reading the next 30 pages on and off for the rest of the day. After a week I've finished it, to the exclusion of other pressing engagements and books on the pile, some recently bought.
What it is about this author that has always stirred my spirit I can't exactly say. I've read The Idiot, Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov(twice) and all have haunted me. I've still got The Possessed, The Gambler and the short stories to read one cold gloomy winter when the heating fails and I'm in bed with a fatal illness.
He's not exactly a barrel of laughs, is he, Dostoyevsky! But what a writer to get under your skin and make you feel this is my story, everyman's story. Solitude, self-loathing and despair at the sheer cruelty of man's fate are his common themes. In The House of the Dead, the hero or victim is sent to Siberia to live in fearful conditions amongst men who are often cruel, loathsome, self-seeking, cunning, always filthy, and always dreaming of escape. We meet a cross-section of the criminal class, some of whom are utterly despicable, but yet understandable. Floggings - sometimes up to 5000 lashes happen continuously, but even worse, it seems, is the spite, bitterness and hatred between convicts.
The story is semi-autobiographical, for Dostoyevsky himself was sent to Omsk for 4 years of penal servitude. The crime or 'crimes' committed are immaterial. as it the arbitrary nature of justice - an old man is given a hundred lashes for supposed insolence before he has even settled in to the hostile shed where he is to serve an indeterminate sentence. That's life at the rough end. You'd better get used to it!
Beneath all this torture and hatred, however, a political message emerges from time to time. This was life under a totalitarian regime of oppresive czars; there is hope in the working man, in the simple peasant class or in the artisan. Well, that sounds too sentimental of course and we know what Communism gave the average Russian - an even harsher deal, just as brutal and corrupt, and just as, or even more, intolerant of dissent.
However, this is not a political pamphlet but a human document; a plea not so much for social justice as for an awareness of the strangeness and surprising nature of fate and one man's reflections on it. Thus Goryanchykov, the narrator, concludes:
There is in the Russian character so much down-to-earth sobriety, so much inner sobriety, so much inner mockery directed at the self ... It may be that it was this perpetual state of secret discontent that caused these men to be so impatient in their day-to-day dealings with one another, to be so implacable and jeeringly malicious in one another's regard.
Prison is the microcosm, the crucible that brings to boiling point the discontents lurking in what the author would call the soul of man.