Mad Dog's Reviews > The Idiot

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Jun 29, 10

bookshelves: re-read
Read from June 08 to 28, 2010 — I own a copy, read count: 2

You could play a drinking game where you take a drink every time someone (during a conversation in this story) "blushes", "trembles", "quivers", "becomes pale", etc. But you would get drunk pretty fast. This is a book full of drama kings and queens. Everybody is so concerned with what 'so and so did' and who 'so and so talked to'. These characters need to center themselves, maybe they all need to attend yoga classes.

I have always stated this as my favorite book (and Dostoevsky as my fave author), but it has been over twenty years since I first read this book or read Dostoevsky. I have been eager to see if Dostoevsky and this book held up for me. I read the inveterate and 'old fashioned' translation (of this book) by Garnett, as I already owned it.

And this book held up for me OK. I liked it fine, but I didn't love it like I did so long ago. But I am still eager to read more Doestoevsky.

The great thing about this book for me is the book's main thing: Myshkin (aka 'The Idiot'). I 'love' the main character (Myshkin) and found his interaction with the 'other characters' to be highly interesting/compelling (as hew was much less 'worldly' than these other characters). I fell for (and was highly touched) by Myshkin's closing scene with Rogozhin. I was highly touched by Myshkin's concern for the 'shunned woman in Switzerland'. I was highly touched by Myshkin's scene with 'high society' where he went overboard genuinely complimenting the high society people. It was quite interesting how Myshkin appealed to a broad cross section of people because the people found him to be uniquely genuine, positive, non-manipulative, and compassionate. He appealed to both the 'young liberal haters' and the 'high society people'. But I think it is wrong to compare Myshkin to Jesus Christ, as Myshkin is a fairly passive person (obviously, Jesus is 'proactive') and Myshkin is perhaps too interested in the "he said, she said" details of Russian society.

My teen sons are going through a 'highly complaining' phase (I hope it is just a 'phase') of their life, and the complaining makes me think of the 'count your blessings' style of Myshkin. Heck, my own complaining makes me think of Myshkin. I hear people 'every day' use the word 'Idiot', and this makes me think of Myshkin and this book.

I liked Dostoevsky's insertion of 'essays' and opinions/insights into the story. I am calling an 'essay' any long 'soliloquy-like' point made by the narrator or a character of the book. I especially liked (and found touching) Ippolit's long letter (where he confronts his pending young death due to illness) that touched on theology, death, humility, loving others, etc., etc. It is too bad Ippolit is a spiteful man that could not live out some of his high-minded ideals. I liked Myshkin's long opining on the Catholic Church and the goodness of the Russian people (although I wouldn't agree with him on some of his points).

With my weakness for animal humor, I am laughing my a** off at two scenes in the book: The "throw the dog off the train" incident and the hedgehog gift. I found (at just certain times in the book) Dostoevsky to be wickedly funny.

My 'ecstasy' was tempered by:
-- the length of the book (one example of this is that I think the final Myshkin/Rogozhin encounter had too much 'off point' build-up and activity before we got to the 'heart of the matter')
-- the "did you hear what she said" soap opera stuff suddenly started irritating me about 2/3 through the book.
-- characters like Lebedyev who I didn't find interesting and who puzzled me with their 'standing in the story'. Lebedyev always seemed to be scheming but I couldn't figure out what the point of his scheming was. Actually, Lebedyev may be really interesting and I may have missed some 'stuff'. There are a lot of characters in this book (like Lebedyev) that don't seem central to the story and are not that striking or interesting (but these characters occupy a sizeable portion of the book).

I know it is a purpose of Dostoevsky to show the 'idiocy' of Russian society, but as he wrote about what he didn't like you are reading about characters you don't like and their activities may not always be interesting. This contrast (to Myshkin) is needed, but I think there is more contrast than what is needed (to isolate Myshkin's 'goodness').

I don't know what to think about the love triangle that is so central to the book. Myshkin had a lot of feeling for the two women in 'his little love triangle', but he never seemed really 'in love' with either woman. He was very passive with these women. I don't know what Dostoevsky is trying to express with this 'love triangle'. I have a hard time making up in my own mind if the love triangle was interesting or not. And the women in this love triangle: often boring, right??

Maybe if I read the Cliff Notes, I would have a lot of 'a-ha' moments that would bring me more around to some of the characters and situations in this book. This book is 'heady stuff' and was much easier for me to read when I was single and in my 20's. It took me almost three weeks to read this (and I was often interrupted while reading) and that probably causes me to miss out on some of the points made in the book. I'll probably re-read this (if I get a chance) in my 'retirement years'.

Another brain teaser: Should more have been revealed about Myshkin's core beliefs? Other than his discourse against Catholicism (and his profession of being a Christian), we find out very little about his core theology and religious beliefs. For that matter, we find out little about his religious practices. He is not presented as a churchgoer or a prayerful man. I can't decide whether this lack of revelation (concerning Myshkin) is a good thing or not. Remember that the great Nacho Libre said that the "center of a man is his 'nucleus'". Should we know more about Myshkin's 'nucleus'?
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