I am a huge fan of Dostoyevsky’s two great novels – The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. Though it is always tempting to reread such books, I decided it was time to move on to some of Dostoyevsky’s lesser-known work. It seems his “tier-two” works are Demons (also known as The Possessed) and The Idiot. Both classics in their own right, though slightly not to the level of the two biggies.
As I worked my way through Demons, I could see why. It took me an incredibly long time to get into this book. The story seemed to meander in ways the other two did not. The “introduction” of the plot takes up nearly 3/10 of the whole thing! There were times I became frustrated, wondering when the story would get off the ground.
Once all the characters were introduced, the book begins to pick up steam. The more I managed to read, the more I wanted to read. There seemed to be a lot more characters than in the other Dostoyevsky books I’ve read, but as I got to know them I wanted to know them more: the cold Stavrogin, the rational and suicidal Kirillov, the near-insane Stephan and all the rest. Actually, the more I read the less I wanted to get to know them as they mostly appear to be despicable people, especially Verkhovensky. That’s one of the great things about Dostoyevsky, he brings the cruelty and gruesomeness of human nature out into the open. There are some comical moments in there, especially when the secret group meets to plot their revolution and they can’t get anything done, perhaps showing Dostoyevsky’s view of such organizations.
I would recommend a few things, if you try to read this book. First, read Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov first to get a taste for Dostoyevsky. Second, stick with it. Third, find a copy of “Stavrogin’s Confession” online to read. This chapter was censored when the book was originally published and is quite amazing, disturbing and thought-provoking. Overall, it is a great novel. Not Dostoyevsky’s best, but his second best is still pretty amazing.