Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Book 4 of 2013: The Idiot by Fydor Dostoyevsky

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky was another book from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, plus it fulfilled a requirement for the Winter Reading Challenge (the letter I). I actually couldn’t decide between The Idiot and Ivanhoe but I made the choice based on the fact that I’d had a bit of a bad day and a book entitled The Idiot suited my mood better. As I’ve been gradually adding as many of the free to download ‘1001 Books’ to my Kindle, I went for the ebook version.

Image of Dostoyevsky from Wikipedia
I’ve wanted to try reading some Russian literature for quite a while. I went to St. Petersburg when I was eighteen and there’s something about the place that I just fell in love with, there’s so much history there. Aside from a bit of Chekhov, I’ve never really read anything by any Russian authors so picking up The Idiot felt like I was able to tick off another box for my own personal reading challenge.

I didn’t have any real expectations for it because the free download version didn’t actually display a synopsis. There was obviously a description about it in ‘1001 Books’ but as some of them give the endings or significant plot points away I avoided reading that as well, so I honestly didn’t know what it was going to be about. It started quite well; I began it quite late at night and only manage to read a few pages because I had to be up for work the next day. I actually found it to be quite funny and I remember thinking that if it was going to be 389 pages of this, it’d be a breeze.

But then after the first fifty or so pages, nothing really seemed to happen for about two hundred pages. I really felt like I could have read the first six or seven chapters and then skipped to the last hundred pages and not really have noticed much of a difference. It took me almost two weeks to read because it was so easy to put it down and when I started it again, nothing seemed to happen, and it would be late, so I’d put it down again. Then suddenly things picked up again and I spent the last night reading the final ten percent of the book fairly quickly. It’s a shame that the rest of the book couldn’t have gripped me so strongly.

I did enjoy reading a book set in a foreign city that I’ve actually been to. There were only a few place names that I actually recognised (one of which I’m going to have to look up because I’m sure I’ve been there but I can’t actually remember). I don’t think that there was a huge amount of description of what the places looked like, there wasn’t much that stuck with me, but I found it really easy to picture the places because I spent so much of the trip to St. Petersburg studying all the architecture. It’s a beautiful place.

One thing that I think that the book could have benefitted from, and perhaps other editions, have this, is a list of characters and their relationships to one another. The way that Russian naming works means that many of the characters have several names, all of which are used interchangeably. It meant that it was a bit tricky to actually keep track of people at times. There were times when I would forget who was who in a scene because I thought there were five people but actually there were four but one or two of them were using two different names depending who spoke to them.

It was a heavy-going read and I think that perhaps at another time I might have enjoyed it a little more than I did on this read through. It’s not put me off attempting another novel by a Russian author, but I’m planning on taking a little break from the ‘1001 Books’ for a month to read some books that I really want to read rather than ones that I think I should read.

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