‘Will I Really – I mean, really – actually take an axe, start bashing her on the head, smash her skull to pieces?… Will I really slip in sticky, warm blood, force the lock, steal, tremble, hide, all soaked in blood… Axe in hand?… Lord will I really?’.
It is the eternal crime of the reader that we judge a book by its cover, and not its content. However, when we are faced with a new translation of a classic novel such as Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, it can often become hard to distance ourselves from the old versions, and adapt to a new vision of the story which we know and love. It is therefore fitting perhaps, that the above quote was chosen to reel readers in and introduce them to this revitalised tale of inner turmoil.
Oliver Ready’s translation begins with a detailed introduction which, whilst full of reflections on Dostoevsky’s other novels, also explains the reasoning behind another translation from Russian. Remember to take the time to read this section, as it shows an insightful and interesting background of Russia, and Dostoevsky over the course of the novel’s creation, and of the novel itself.
Crime and Punishment tells the story of Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, a twenty-three year old ex-University student who is struggling to live on a pittance, given to him by his poor mother and sister. Tall, dark, and handsome, Rodion’s actions confuse the reader, as you find yourself both repulsed by his brutality and drawn in by his unusual acts of kindness, one of which serves to introduce Sonya, a teenage Christian prostitute with whose help Rodion manages to find both his punishment and salvation.
Cut into six parts, the novel begins so clearly with an intent – money, and a crime – the murder described previously. Yet, over the course of the next five parts, you begin to realise that the compulsion to commit this murder cannot possibly come from sheer monetary intent. Instead, this novel becomes a tale of psychological depravity, an inspector novel which the reader must indulge in to find Rodion’s sanity, and join in with the cat and mouse game in progress.
I found myself reading Crime and Punishment for The Edge, and thought that I would at least be able to put it down for a moment. Instead, I was subjected to sleepless nights as I delved more and more into this complex tale. Grabbing my attention, Dostoevsky, with the help of Ready, held it for endless hours as I poured over this book, wondering why I both loved and hated Rodion, why I detested Porfiry Petrovich, the detective in charge of the murder investigation, purely because he could put Rodion in prison, and why I disliked Pulkheria, Rodion’s mother, who I felt a compulsion to shake, before realising that she only knew what Rodion had told her, which was, in fact, fairly little.
I found it hard to write this review, as I felt like shouting what happens from the rooftops, and talking to friends about it for an age, simply to satisfy my own need to know that everything that happened was justified, especially in a time where a relatively short sentence for a brutal murder is unheard of. I would recommend that as many people as possible read this novel, not only to make sure that Dostoevsky is remembered, but because it has influenced so many, and will continue to do so for years to come if given the chance, I’m sure.
Oliver Ready is a Research Fellow and Director of the Russkiy Mir Programme at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford.
Crime and Punishment is written by Fyodor Dostoevsky and translated by Oliver Ready and is published by Penguin Classics.