Book Review: The Brothers Karamazov

Thursday 24 March 2016 by

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Classics, Reading, Book, VintageThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Published by Vintage

“The Brothers Karamazov” is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving Karamazov and his three sons – the impulsive and sensual Dmitri; the coldly rational Ivan; and the healthy young novice Alyosha. Through the gripping events of their story, Dostoevsky portrays the social and spiritual strivings in what was both a golden age and a tragic turning point in Russian culture.


I picked The Brothers Karamazov for my next 2016 Classics Challenge because I knew I’d have to give Russian literature a go at some point, and where better to start than with Dostoevsky? I’m a huge fan of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov so wasn’t too daunted… to begin with.

But let’s get this straight, The Brothers Karamazov is no light read. It’s huge. And it’s slow – for something that promises murder and love, it takes an awfully long time to get there. It feels like the set-up goes on for a few hundred pages (in actual fact, that’s not far off).

None of the characters are even that likeable, so I struggled to get in to it. Even Alyosha – who plays the part of the conscience – is slightly too virtuous to be any fun. The beauty of Dostoevsky’s writing is that is doesn’t do anything lightly – the characters are huge caricatures of their purpose. They serve the ultimate goal; an allegory with a moral. Dostoevsky writes satire but also warnings. He points a sharp finger at society and takes it apart piece by careful piece.

Now, that I enjoyed. I enjoyed the sheer art by which Dostoevsky wrote a piece of cultural assassination full of wit and humour. But the bit I didn’t enjoy is how long he took to make his point. This book could have been half the size and twice the experience. The first third was slow and cautious and spent its entire time trying to tell you about things, instead of just doing it.

Russian literature of this kind has classic status for a reason – it’s timeless, brilliant and guidance for most books to follow. But if I’m going to be honest, I much prefer the taciturn Hemingway to the effusive Dostoevsky. It pays to be frugal with words. I love the wit of the “Russian greats” – in all honesty, they do satire like no other, and The Brothers Karamazov is kind of in that group; it plays to the farce, but also builds an unnervingly eye-opening portrayal of life and culture.

This has definitely not been my favourite book so far – I only wish I could have enjoyed it more, but the sheer length of it was an obstacle I couldn’t overcome.

April’s choice for the 2016 Classics Challenge

Carson McCullers, The Heart is Lonely Hunter, Penguin, Book, Reading, 2016 Classics Challenge

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

Published by Penguin

“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” was Carson McCullers’ first novel, written in 1940. Set in a small town in the American South, it is the story of a group of people who have little in common except that they are all hopelessly lonely. A young girl, a drunken socialist and a black doctor are drawn to a gentle, sympathetic deaf mute, whose presence changes their lives. This powerful exploration of alienation is both moving and perceptive.

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