Read first in 2003, and again in 2006, and once more in 2008, in the Penguin classic edition translated by David McDuff.
Rating: 5 stars
Crime and Punishment has long been my favourite book. I have read the David McDuff translation for Penguin three times, once in a tent at Glastonbury festival where it almost won the battle for my undivided attention. The Pevear & Volokhonsky translation for Vintage, though, blows McDuff out of the water. It is more immediate, more human, simultaneously capturing the period Dostoyevsky was writing in alongside the sense that life is timeless and modernity began in the 1860s.
Crime and Punishment is the first true crime novel. As someone who reads a lot of crime, I can see how much Christie, Raymond, La Plante, Chandler, Conan Doyle, all of them owe to this one great novel. Even the writers of Columbo owe a debt to Porfiry Petrovich. There are so many universal themes in the book, too – religious and political fanaticism, science and logic versus faith, the portrait of a psychopath, the disintegration of society under the weight of excess. It is Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece and, for me, no other work of literature even comes close in scope or achievement.
From the moment Raskolnikov decides to commit his crime, through his feverish attempts to evade suspicion and his equally feverish desire to be brought to justice, via his conflicted resistance towards being redeemed by Sonya and his rejection of his family, to the moment it’s all over and life can start again, Crime and Punishment grips me like no other book. My heart feels like it will burst from my chest, I am so emotionally involved. I can feel the sweat on Raskolnikov’s brow. I can taste the dirt and smell the damp in the slum dwellings the characters occupy. I can feel the weariness of shame and wounded pride in Sonya as she sacrifices herself daily in a vain attempt to keep her family together. I am there with Razumikhin in his love and concern for his crazed friend. Most of all, I am on Raskolnikov’s side. I want to dissuade him from committing his crime and I want him to confess so that he can return to being the person he was meant to be, before his head filled with a whole heap of crazy. I want him to be okay.
It is an incredible book.