Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Crime and Punishment 2016

I read Crime and Punishment by eye in 2011, wrote a generally hostile review of it here, and gave it four stars on GoodReads. Over the last few weeks, I listened to it and thought it was terrific! I'm giving it four stars!

What changed? Well, for one thing I've obviously become more parsimonious with my GoodReads stars.

Why did I like it better this time? To start with, I listened to a very strong performative reading (Anthony Heald, in a Blackstone recording), which is kind of like having a Shakespearean actor helping you understand Shakespeare. It helps! The translation was, I think, a little more lively; Blackstone doesn't credit a translation but -- oh hey, it's on the image I just found!! It helped, in a densely written book, that I already knew what was going on (I think of this as "The Ulysses Effect"). Probably, in a densely written book, it's just plain easier to listen than read.

But also, I understood the book differently as a whole this time than I did the first time around. It seemed like an organic whole with conceptually related parallel plots, rather than one central plot with subplots that mostly served to mark time. The heightened emotional states, for whatever reason, didn't seem as extreme as they did before.

But the main difference was that this time I found Crime and Punishment kind of... well... funny! Not a knee-slapping, chortling kind of funny, but wry and ironic. The first time through, I felt that Dostoevsky was trying to refute the Nietzschean claptrap that Raskolnikov has hooked his wagon to. On second reading, I think he's just making fun of it. He certainly has fun with Raskolnikov's critical thinking; the lad doesn't have a single thought in his pretty little head that doesn't have a completely contradictory concept, held with an equal passion, bouncing up against it. He is the classic college sophomore, knowledgeable and foolish. His clumsy crime that opens the book is a horror, of course, but it is also a carefully planned and hopelessly inept farce. Other scenes -- the bickering of Sonya's mother and her German landlady, or Porfiry's jovially relentless interrogations -- are equally comic under the stern surface of their dry, just-the-reported-speech-ma'am narration.

I've had a lot of people tell me that my "Game of Reading," with all of its re-reading of books I've already read, is kind of crazy. Well, it's obviously not for everyone. But, it really is giving me some new... what? Perspectives and insights? Which is kind of fun! I'm glad I reread Crime and Punishment!

p.s. One of my Goodreads friends has a one line review of C&P: "Raskolnikov thinks too much." Nah. Hamlet thinks too much. Raskolnikov just talks too much. If he did a little more actual thinking, he wouldn't decide that it would be cool to kill somebody.

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