Devils, The (Demons/The Possessed)
4/10 (Unenjoyable as a novel, too long as a political satire/treatise)
It’s amazing that such a long, boring book without any main characters — or any sympathetic characters at all, aside from the suspiciously reasonable and omniscient narrator — has achieved distinction as a classic, or even as a good novel. Here, Dostoyevsky failed miserably in crafting an interesting narrative. There is little plot, and the book doesn’t even become remotely engaging until halfway through. After that, the action picks up, but it splits so often between different characters — each of them equally annoying — that I still couldn’t wait for it to be over. The first quarter of the book is occupied with two characters that you presume will be the main ones (Mrs. Stavrogin and Stepan V.), but they barely appear for the rest of the novel. I only skimmed the last three chapters.
As a political satire or warning, the book works much better. Dostoyevsky offers a scathing criticism of socialism and liberalism in general. Some of his caricatures of the leftists are hilarious, and he doesn’t reserve his criticism for the left: his depiction of the ineffectual “conservative” governor’s house is equally acidic. He lost me when he strayed into the metaphysical/philosophical realm, especially with Kirilov’s godhood-through-suicide ideas. A lot of these scribblings are the precursor to what would appear in his next novel The Brothers Karamazov. Ultimately though, political commentary and theological musings do not sustain 600+ pages of novel at anywhere near an enjoyable level.
Crime and Punishment is one of my all-time favorites, and I really wanted to like this book. Alas, it wasn’t to be.