This is the third time I’ve read Notes From Underground, the first two times I felt it was a book full of great lines (‘Man is the ungrateful biped’) and ideas but as a whole difficult and disjointed. However, this time around I found I had not read it with the right perspective or plain didn’t get it the first two times. The book still jars in places, this I think is due to the structure of how it is written; how does one write a madman’s soliloquy over a 100 pages long without getting into some sticky awkward narrative issues. But on the whole this illustrates perfectly G K Chestertons comments on madness: that madness isn’t the loss of rationality, but the loss of everything other than rationality.
The man from the underground is the extreme form of an over emphasise on consciousness (a Cartesian monster). A twisted version of Buridan’s Ass: if everything is equal and logical, then it loses all meaning and how does one decide anything – how can one make a decision, if in the end every choice is the same and meaningless? If at bottom there is no foundation, just more questions - does one just suffer vertigo?
I had in the past rated this book below his key major four works (although in my opinion the Idiot isn’t as strong as the other three works: The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, and Demons). After reading this again, I couldn’t help feeling it matched his strongest works.
The Gambler on the other hand is a well written Dostoyevsky yarn, with delicious capricious characters throwing rationality to the wind, but isn’t quite as strong as Notes from Underground, but perhaps an easier lighter read.