December 27, 2009

Literary Pick (***)

The Idiot (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

I initially struggled with this book, and almost started over when I reached chapter 4, but realized that no matter how many times I re-read all 4 chapters, I would still find myself having difficulty with the characters and their names. I hoped repetitive exposure would eventually aid in remembering the names and I could get to a point where I could begin enjoy reading the story.
Past the initial obstacle I thought the story of The Prince was charming and unpredictably complex. However, I've never read a book that alternated back and forth between utterly sucking to incredibly exciting. I definitely had a love-hate relationship with this novel. The alternation was so consistent that when I was reading a good chapter, I knew a bad part was looming over the horizon.
However, the manner in which Dostoevsky began the second part of the book was beautifully brilliant! I was blown away with how precise and to the point he was in updating the characters lives and their whereabouts. At this point I was very excited about the book and felt I was about to embark on a wonderful literary journey. Nastasha Filipovna's birthday soiree was incredibly exciting. I was insane with agitation and suspense.
The story is basically about a young man "The Prince" (aka The Idiot) who suffers from epilepsy (aka mental problems) who spent a good amount of his life in a mental institution in Switzerland. He returns to his home-town of Russia after feeling well enough to socialize with general population. Upon his return he meets Rogozhin. He then decides to visit a very distant relative, (if related at all) and that's when the trouble begins. He falls in love with the beautiful self-destructive yet deliciously wicked temptress (Nastasha). She brings all kinds of drama to his life and everyone else's, for that matter.
However... after she humiliates the poor Prince, and takes off with Rogozhin, the Prince leaves for a few months to recover from his shame. He returns, and we, the reader, are left to unscramble such a mess of tangled characters. Dostoevsky kept the characters going round in circles trying to over-extend one issue (whether or not Burdovsky was Pavlishchev's illegitimate son). It was really unnecessarily stretched out to the max! it kept going on even after they proved that it was all a scam and he wasn't Pavlishchev's son after all. It was about 3 very long chapters of this back and forth. I don't mind reading long chapters if the book as a whole is coherent, but imagine reading 11 tiny-print pages crammed with at least 13 characters with foot-long Russian names. ugh.
In part 2 of the book The Prince took on a different character. He was less the sweet innocent man who always sought to see only the good in people. In part 2 he became distant, pre-ocupied and paranoid.
The only exciting parts of the book for the most part seemed to be when the female characters were in action. The ladies always brought drama to the scene. When it was just the men, they would go on and on about Philosophy. And it wasn't even good interesting philosophy, it was drunken Russian political Philosophy. There was an entire chapter of about 8 pages that dealt with the philosophy of over-population and cannibalism. That's even if I understood it correctly.
But ippolit's "explanation" was the best existential speech I'll probably ever read. It actually made up for all the chapters that made me want to hurl the book from a moving vehicle.


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