I read The Brothers Karamazov many years ago from the translation by Constance Garnett, who was, until recently, arguably the gold standard in translation of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. How I wish I could read them in the original Russian, but possibly in another lifetime. I remember very little of the novel, vaguely recalling that there was a murder in a family of three sons. One part I remember, and this was why I was apprehensive about a re-read, was the long theological debates that take place in the monastery at the beginning of the novel. Reading this reminded me of wading through thick mud, but, at the time, I was patient enough to anticipate eventual plot development--possibly on page 456 or somewhere. Now that I'm a hundred pages into the re-read, the discussions don't seem that painful, possibly because I participate in/endure such discussions at the LLAC (little liberal arts college).
Mainly the argument is about the relationship between church and state. I won't go into the main theses surrounding the discussion, but there is a definite undertone of prevailing socialism being tauted by certain members in the debate. Now I see now how important this is to the introduction of the main characters in the novel, and, although it is still tough going at times, the discourse doesn't seem as long as I remember. I actually understand a great deal of it.
I'm also enjoying the development of the rogue father Fyodor Pavlovich, who is cringe-provokingly socially inept. Like an episode of Murder She Wrote, you get the idea that this guy is just begging for it. Also at stake are women and money, so there just has to be a grisly resolution at some point, and the tension is building toward a frantic, emotional, Russian climax.
Could it be the translation that makes this reading more compelling? I've got a copy of the Garnett translation here as well (sometimes I love working in a library) and I want to do a quick comparison to see how the language differs. At times the wording is identical, with the word "countenance" being replaced by "looks", but it seems that Pevear and Volokhonsky add depth to Dostoevsky's expressions. Here is a brief comparison of the same two sentences.
Pevear and Volokhonsky:
Even when he was excited and talking
irritably, his eyes did not follow
his mood, but betrayed something else,
sometimes quite incongruous with
what was passing.
Even when he was excited and talking irritably, his look, as it were, did
not obey his inner mood but expressed something else, sometimes not at all
corresponding to the present moment.
(sorry I can't go back from block quote mode, but F****** blogspot is being stubbornly inept today)
I love the use of commas in Dostoevsky. The placement of the words and the details contained in the clauses feed a rich image to me as a reader. The commas also do something for the pacing, which forces me to slow down, and take in the words individually, something I rarely do when reading any work. At this rate, how will I ever finish the book? It doesn't matter, this work has allowed me to find my groove in the right lane going five miles under the speed-limit and enjoying every bush and vista along the way.
I believe The Brothers Karmazov has a reputation as a difficult read. It may be so, but you've got to love a novel whose chapter titles bear declarations like this: "Why Is Such A Man Alive!", "One More Ruined Reputation," "Strain in the Drawing Room," "Strain in the Cottage," and "The Old Buffoon." All of the language in this novel is provocative and active, and if fiction is meant to be transformative, Dostoevsky is a master at taking this reader out of this world and into his.
Last night, at around 2am Booker woke me wanting to go out. I laid back down but I couldn't sleep. I had gone to bed early and now, in the middle of the night, I was wide awake. I puttered around the house a bit, checking to see if anyone from Indonesia was viewing my blog (they weren't) but finally I picked up The Brothers Karamazov and started reading. The inability to sleep is usually defined by too many things swirling around in my brain. Reading in this state rarely changes anything, except that I have a book in my hand that I can't concentrate on because of the Rolodex of anxieties flipping through my conscious. Last night reading worked, and Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, for all his faults, can be solely responsible for getting me out of myself and into his buffoonery, allowing the Rolodex to stop and sleep to overcome me. I woke up thanking Dostoevsky.
Extra: Here is a link to the article I wrote for the school paper. I'm doing restaurant reviews.