Posts Tagged ‘ Literature ’

Dostoevsky – ‘The Brothers Karamazov’: Thoughts

I’m starting to think I should change the name of this blog. When I set out, I wanted somewhere to write about the video games I was playing and this was my humble outlet for that. More recently however, I feel like I haven’t had the time to play many video games. I’ve just started working full time (temporarily) and have a bunch of real life stuff going on which often prevents me from enjoying my video games. On top of all this, I simply don’t have anything current enough, all the games I could talk about would be small indie games that could run on my laptop. I haven’t had a new acquisition for my retro collection in a while and I’ve already talked about most of the stand out titles in that.
Whilst I haven’t been playing games, I have been reading books. Mostly in lunch breaks at work and on public transport etc. This has allowed me to finally finish The Brothers Karamazov, perhaps Dostoevsky’s second most famous work behind Crime & Punishment. This one is a huge novel, steeped in detail and Dostoevsky’s bleak Russian evaluation of society. I thought I would quite like to gives some of my clumsy thoughts on this great book. I’m no expert and do not claim to be one, I did however enjoy this book and want to just air some thoughts about it.

I think this is Dmitri Karamazov but I am not 100%

The first thing I feel like I should mention is Dostoevsky’s style of narration. In The Possessed he was narrating as a bystander to the events of the novel, as a character who was a close friend of one of the central figures early on. This narrating character was either present at the events of the book or heard in detail about later from his connections in the town, allowing him to describe them to the reader. To me, this is very plausible and adds an element of the ‘unreliable narrator’ which often leads to interesting interpretations, although this character does usually seem to be calling things mostly straight with some exceptions, like a clear dislike for the ‘villain’ of the novel. In Karamazov however, there is quite a different approach. The narration seems to come mostly third person from one of the titular brothers but sometimes the narrator appears to move through the air and float above certain scenes and happenings. To me one particularly jarring section is at the end of the book, where there is a trial (Warning: Spoilers ahead) of one of the Karamazov brothers. During this quite lengthy section, Dostoevsky chooses to recount the action as he did in The Possessed, as an unnamed narrator character. I suspect he does this so he can talk directly to the reader as this character, this allows him to cut down the length of the section (as trials do tend to be quite long) by providing broad overviews of impressions in the court house etc. I found the sudden change in style to be quite unpleasant, although I guess it served it’s purpose. Overall it doesn’t really detract from the quality of the book although since it happens right at the end it does leave a bit of a sour taste.

Something else I would like to talk about comes from something someone mentioned to me when they saw I was reading Dostoevsky. They told me they could never follow the characters names and as such couldn’t enjoy the book. Whilst I personally didn’t struggle too much, I have to concede that they may have had a point. I feel like the perfect example of this can be found in Karamazov in the form of the titular brothers. The eldest is named Ivan, then Dmitri and finally Alexis. I understand that these are the forenames of the three most central characters. Their surname, of course, is Karamazov. I am no expert, but it seems that Russians are referred to as a derivative of their fathers’ forenames at least in this period/setting which is often used instead of their surname. The father of these three brothers is Fyodor, like Dostoevsky himself. This means Ivan is referred to as Ivan Fyodorovich continually. This isn’t all too bad but for the other siblings, their nicknames come into account. Dmitri is known as Mitya Fyodorovich and Alexis as Alyosha Fyodorovich. In my opinion this can make things a little tricky to follow. In the modern day we could call one character Alexis Karamazov but is mostly referred to in the book as Alyosha Fyodorovich, which is not really even close. Of course when you consider that these are the titular characters and there are several very important side-characters to remember, then you can see that this might become confusing. Really though, this is not too much of a problem once you get your head round it and hopefully it wouldn’t dissuade anyone from enjoying the novel.

I don’t want to ramble on too long, so I’ll just finish with a few thoughts. I have probably devoted too much time to the two thoughts above but those were some things I really did want to mention. The Brothers Karamazov is overall a great read in my opinion. Dostoevsky’s incredibly detailed style of writing works wonders here. It takes some time to get into but due to the nature of his writing and his love of discussing the ‘character’ of his, well, characters, you really begin to understand them at the deepest level. I feel that one of Dostoevsky’s main strengths is the levels he goes to to explain his characters thoughts and actions. When you understand the political and social context of the period the story is set in you can appreciate this even more. Dostoevsky was very politically motivated and this shows in all his writing, Karamazov is no different. His uniqueness comes from a quality that I am struggling to put into words. It almost feels like each character is fatalistically destined to carry out certain actions in certain scenarios. The flaws of the characters seem to be what ultimately drives them. This is especially seen in Mitya, who is completely overwhelmed by his ‘nature’ and whose actions almost seem completely inevitable given his character and emotional make-up. This sort of fatalistic determinalism seems to run rife through Dostoevsky’s characters and there don’t seem to be any that can break free of their own flaws. Maybe Dostoevsky is making a point about the bleakness that surrounds the idea of destiny. The thought that no matter our wishes we are all doomed to adhere to our characteristic and emotional flaws until they ruin us. At least that is the way it seems to be in this novel. The ending of the book is appropriately bleak and is very characteristic of the author. Alyosha is chosen as the main brother to be followed by the narrator and his character arc seems very realistic. He starts the novel as a fresh faced young monk-to-be and ends the story having seen tragedy tear his family apart and ready to embark into the world. Tragedy seems to follow Dostoevsky’s characters around, although not too unrealistic proportions. Alyosha ends the book as seemingly the only survivor of the scandal that the book entails, which is interesting considering how virtuously he is portrayed. Perhaps Alyosha has managed to escape the clutches of his destiny through his selflessness and adherence to moral values? Undoubtedly there is a social commentary here but I am not the main to discern its full nature. Ultimately the book is fairly heavy going but overall worth it. It can get extremely wordy at times and personally I think some sections could do with a little pruning. Particular I think the stories of the Elder Zosima were a tad unnecessary given their length and the not exactly central nature of the character recounting them. Still they add depth to key characters so they are clearly not without purpose. The Brothers Karamazov is a great book, as I’m sure you already know. If you think you can follow through the commitment of reading it, then I would strongly encourage you to pick it up.

I hope you enjoyed this rambling, I think it does me good to tell my ideas to no-one in particular sometimes. I am deeply grateful to anyone actually reading this, as it is undoubtedly very dull. I’m currently reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina which is a completely different animal. Once I’ve finished that I would quite like to write something comparing works by the two Russian greats. I guess we shall see. Apologies, yet again, for the huge gaps between updates. I do always intend to write more things here but life gets in the way. Perhaps in the future?


10 Literary Works That Have Influenced Me: Part Two

So I managed to get the first half of this list done yesterday and, as promised, I’ve decided to get the second half done as soon as possible. I’ve spent some time thinking about all these entries and I think I’ve managed to come up with the final draft. Also I think I got a few followers following my last post, if you’re reading this I’m very glad you liked it. It looks like literary content is more in demand than video game stuff, or maybe it was the easier-to-read formatting that caught eyes. Either way, I present the second half of the 10 literary works that have influenced me.

6 – Isaac Asimov, I, Robot

I tried to read I. Robot when I was quite young and I didn’t really grasp what was going on. I left the book alone for a couple of years and later came back to it. I was enthralled by the ideas contained within the novel, some of the best science fiction I have ever read. If you’ve only seen the film I endeavor to recommend the book heartily. The book is made up of multiple short stories whilst the film elongates one, although perhaps the most interesting, of these stories into a feature presentation of Will Smith jumping around and shooting at things. Perhaps the second worst use of science fiction intellectual property I have come across. Anyway, Asimov’s book deals with a fascinating ideal that has been explored by science fiction; the ideals and morals of artificial intelligence. I, Robot brings up fascinating implications of the development of AI, and the morals that surround humanity ‘playing God’. A collection of interesting stories combined with the raising of fascinating moral queries around the subject matter make this a great read in my eyes. Influential to me because it got me really interested in science fiction and its messages and the questions it raises have stayed with me for a long time. A lot of sci-fi writers owe a lot of Isaac Asimov and after reading this book I can understand why.

7 – Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials Trilogy

This is another series from my childhood and a memorable one at that. Unfortunately Pullman’s trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass) tends to get somewhat drowned under the leviathan of children’s literature that is Harry Potter. Pullman’s fantasy world is fascinating and introduces many concepts over the trilogy. At it’s heart it is a coming-of-age romance tale spread over a race to save existence as we know it. It sounds simpler than it is, trust me. What most influenced me about this series (other than the detailed and unique world Pullman creates) is the interactions with religion. This is a theme that I have been continually interested in in literature and I really like the approach Pullman takes. There are a lot of themes running through the books that fit in well with spirituality and Christian religion, since then I’ve very much appreciated literature that deals with religion in a thoughtful manner, or just without straight out derision. Humour is fine, Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett) mocks Christianity and I think that book is amazing because it does it in a way that is not dismissive. On top of all this the series is well written, interesting and very unique. Definitely underrated children’s fiction.

8 – Terry Pratchett, Truckers

If you’ve been reading carefully you may have noticed I’ve mentioned Terry Pratchett twice already in this list, that may hint to you how much I enjoy Pratchett’s work. He has written an awful lot of books and I have read a lot of them. Truckers was, from what I remember, my introduction to Pratchett (it may have been The Carpet People). I think I read it for the first time at a young age because I struggled with anything in The Discworld, I’m gonna say that was because I struggled with the concept of a completely fantastical world and I needed familiar points of reference to be able to grasp the stories. Yes, I may have been that young. TruckersDiggers, and Wings are all neat little books with a basic story about some gnomes who are struggling in a world (our world) that is far too big for them. The books are fairly simplistic and, although far from without humour, is not as funny as his repeated parodies of fantasy literature found in nearly any of The Discworld books. This was influential to me because it opened a gateway into Pratchett through which I entered with aplomb. This humble little book and series got me hooked and I’ve never looked back.

9 – Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

The only play in this list and it deserves it’s play very much. I’m not the hugest fan of reading play scripts, obviously the medium is best experienced through a performance but this I loved this play before I even saw it in a theatre. This tragic story of a failed American dream is truly distressing and incredibly sad. The characters are all fantastic and the themes running through the play are well handled and interesting. Ideas of family life, father and son relationships and, most of all, the aforementioned American dream are all dealt with and explored to great effect. A frankly harrowing vision of the dangers of believing in the wealth brought by chasing the bright lights of America. Whilst the main theme is not too subtle, although I did study this play at school, the play is multifaceted thematically and is well worth a read through or, even better, seeing it performed live. There’s also a great film with Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich if you’re that way inclined.

10 – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Devils

This book influenced me very recently. I initially picked it up because it is a fictionalisation of what my BA in History dissertation was roughly about, Dostoyevsky was very much a commentator of the period and his outlet for his thoughts were his novels and so I thought I should read it. Whilst not terribly historically accurate, although broadly correct, the book drew me in like nothing has for a while. The detail poured into the novel is admirable and the style of story telling is something I have not come across too much. The story of a secret anarchistic society developing in Russia is very engaging, although I may have benefited from studying the context in great detail. This is influential to me because it has awoken an interest in the Russian literary classics and now I have another Dostoyevsky and some Tolstoy which require my attention. It’s a really great book but I would say to others to approach with caution because my enjoyment may have come partly through my very detailed understanding of the real historical event the story is based on.

Well, that’s all done. Thank you to anyone who read all that, it means a lot. Quickly, some honourable mentions that I loved reading but didn’t feel they influenced me in the same way the above texts did.

Honourable Mentions: Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita. William Shakespeare, Macbeth. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl series.


10 Literary Works That Have Influenced Me: Part One

This is something I saw crop up a bit on my facebook and I decided to give it a go. I didn’t really want to clog up my facebook with a lengthy post about literature and I certainly didn’t want to just name 10 pieces without providing at least some explanation for each of them. I’m not the best read person in the world so this list won’t be very ground breaking but I’ll try and explain each one of my entries. The following then are the 10 literary works which I feel have influenced me greatly, they are listed in no particular order. Judging on the length of this after I wrote the first 5, I’ve decided to break this up into two parts, this is the first one.

1 – George Orwell, 1984

I think this novel sometimes attracts criticism for being regarded as ‘entry level’ by dedicated intellectuals and book readers. The book has perhaps moved further into the forefront of popular culture since the media began drawing increasing comparisons between  the themes and ideas of the novel and everyday modern life. The idea of the ‘Nanny State’ is something that, in a way, Orwell has prophesied in this book. Whilst ‘Orwellian’ seems to be used increasingly in the lexicon of public discourse these days, it is very important to remember that 1984 is fictional and also portrays a complete extreme. I do feel that anyone seriously claiming the coming of a ‘Big Brother’-like society is perhaps reacting a little rashly. Nevertheless, the relevance of Orwell’s work perhaps only proves its brilliance. I adore this book, it is probably one of my firm favourites. 1984 is a truly disturbing painting of a dystopian future and one that seems all too real. I’ve always found it strange that the main character seems to be one of the few people that sees through the lies of ‘Big Brother’ and yet he is so incredibly identifiable to the reader. This book is genuinely unnerving as it demonstrates how a regime can completely dominate its subjects so totally and completely. I have no doubt this one would make many lists, it has firmly secured a place on mine. (P.S. I love Animal Farm as well, but two Orwell books on this list would be too much)

2 – Brian Jacques, The Redwall Series

For a lot of people my age, I think that Harry Potter may have been the first series they were truly dedicated too. Whilst in my youth I did immensely enjoy Harry Potter my first literary love was another children’s series. The world of the Redwall series is lovingly crafted by Jacques (who, I was devastated to find out, died in 2011) about a wide variety of talking animals. The central point of the book is Redwall Abbey after which the series is named. The Abbey is inhabited by religious mice who regularly fend off all kinds of attacks and challenges with the help of a fairly regular cast of friends. Whilst the whole series spans generations and generations of fictional animals, there are numerous constants which means each book can be enjoyed independently. Now that I am much older, I can see that the stories are largely formulaic, the writing is simplistic (although the series is for children) and the morals of the characters are entirely black or white. This doesn’t stop my nostalgic memories though, the whole series encompasses 22 books (one released posthumously) and I have read 18 of them, missing only the latest 4. I don’t think any single series of books has influenced me more.

3- J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

Again, I imagine this would make many lists although that by no means lessens its presence here. I was encourage to read this trilogy at a very young age by my father, I would estimate around 10 or 11 years old. I think at that time I found it too heavy going, which is not exactly surprising. I seem to remember I returned to the books at 13 and loved them. I always loved The Hobbit and that is why I was encouraged to pursue this trilogy. I think at the time Lord of the Rings felt like an adult reading project to me, so despite the challenge presented by their length and cumbersome detail I persevered and ended up being truly encapsulated by the world Tolkein had created. I don’t think any more needs to be said about this series, and indeed I think that all that could be said already has been.

4 – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series

This was perhaps my first foray into Science-Fiction, a genre I am now reasonably well acquainted with. Adams’ oddball series starts with the titular first novel about Earth being destroyed and a unassuming everyman protagonist seeing and experiencing the vast expanse of the life-filled universe for the first time, in complete and utter bewilderment. The reliable supporting casts of aliens and robots only accentuate the humour and general oddity of the books.  The series is wickedly funny and employs a certain kind of British humour that Adams’ clearly excels in. Despite the jokes, the series manages to deal with some broad concepts such as the meaning of existence and the presence of a higher power, which it does so with quips and clever sarcasm. Whilst the series does meander quite a lot towards the end, it’s worth reading all the entries to get some closure. I think that Douglas Adams, along with Terry Pratchett, introduced to me the idea that literature could be funny, well written and tell a compelling narrative. Don’t watch the film though, it’s awful.

5 – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is another book that is often held on a pedestal, but that is not why I found it influential to me. I studied the Great Gatsby for my A-Levels several years ago and I hated it. I think partly it was due to my dissatisfaction with the teacher. For a variety of reasons, my whole class had to resit the exam because of unsatisfactory results, which meant more studying Gatbsy. Over the course of the revision (with a much better teacher) I began to feel very differently. I feel like Gatsby comes alive with some critical anaylsis. The novel seems much better when considering Fitzgerald’s motivation, the historical content and some of the symbolism he uses. I think it was this instance with Gatsby that made me really understand the importance of critical literary thinking. On top of all this, Gatbsy is a book with a great plot with many layers of literary techniques. The narrative is tragic and expertly crafted. Undoubtedly a great piece of literature, given further meaning to me by my experiences with the text.

I think this list is going to have to be split into two parts, since this is already very lengthy. Expect part 2 soon!