Shawn's Reviews > Demons

Demons by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Sep 26, 2010

it was amazing
Read from May 01 to September 26, 2010 — I own a copy

Whether it is the book or the translation, it is the best Dostoevsky I have read thus far. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have achieved some of what other translators seem to be oblivious, the shifts of social language and speech genre, the highly idiosyncratic speaking voices, and the interplay and interpenetration of these in the text. What Bakhtin so admired in Dostoevsky becomes more immediately perceptible to the English speaking reader who cannot otherwise access the original text.

And here is Dostoevesky at his best as a novelist. It clicks along at an almost breakneck speed at times (I felt like I had to put it down for almost three months after Chapter 8 of part II just to take a breather). And Doestoevsky deploys all his skill at building tension and holding it, of hanging the action in the air ("tune in next week"), and his marvelous characterization is in full force as well.

We spent a long time discussing whether Demons is a better translation of the title than The Possessed. Half way through I didn't think so, but by the end, I was convinced that it is. And I can see why the suppressed chapter ("At Tikhon's") is absolutely necessary to the novel, but I also think that it might be best included just where it is -- as an appendix. You need this chapter to understand a lot about Stavrogin, and to understand the final letter to Darya and the final scene of the novel. But it is almost better to read it afterwards, to live with Stavrogin through the novel more or less as the other characters do, as something of a mystery. I think you also need this chapter in order to understand the grander plan of the novel -- its structure vis-a-vis the gospels. When you read it, Shatov and Maria's story falls more easily into place as does Kirilov's final conversation with Verkhovensky. But that's what I'm not finished thinking about yet, so I will try to return to it a bit later.
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