Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A curious book, this. Not an easy read, since it is a deeply psychological work, built around the thoughts and attitudes of its sociopathic narrator, who seems like an unpleasant person to be around. But we can only deduce this, since the views or thoughts of the other characters are not explored at all – we have to figure out how our narrator must have appeared to them from his own assessment of the situations described.

At bottom, the book seems to me a rather despairing one, with the narrator looking for ways of escaping the resentment he so strongly feels against society in general and himself in particular. There is self-loathing throughout the book. Redemption of sorts might appear at the end, when he drifts into a relationship with a woman, but even this is based on his irritation with her and his continuing inability to reconcile his hatred of the world with the possibility, the dream, of love. His fantasies of ‘success’ are based on control of others; fulfilment without doing others down is inconceivable to him.

A strange book, which reminds me how little I remember of The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot and Crime and Punishment, all of which I read years ago. Perhaps I will read them again some day.


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