Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Idiot was my first experience with Dostoevsky. The 650 odd pages were not so intimidating after the epic that was War & Peace and I felt I was on a roll with this Russian literature lark.

The Idiot is not really an Idiot at all (I've met my fair share of real idiots). The man in question is Prince Myshkin who because of his epilepsy has spent time in a Swiss clinic and the start of the novel sees Myshkin return to Russia after many years. His sheltered upbringing abroad means that he doesn’t understand how to truly behave in the society he finds himself in and he has a naivety and willingness to do the right thing for which he is ridiculed and labelled an Idiot.

The main story is the competition between various suitors vying for the attentions of one Nastasya Fillipovna, a troubled beauty who has been cast off as a fallen women through no fault of her own. But that's summarising the plot in very simple terms as there are an abundance of characters, themes and general philosophising throughout.

Its a packed book and I didn't always remember which character was which (thank goodness for the character list at the front of my edition!) Sometimes while reading it I got a bit lost and became confused by some of the characters behaviour. This wasn't because it was a dense or difficult read, there was just a lot going on and lots of different characters that would suddenly appear. Sometimes a character would suddenly declare they hated another character before suddenly changing their mind again, they all seemed to be very fiery, there was a lot of people throwing their arms up in the air and I just couldn't keep up.

But I kept on with it and it all made sense in the end plot wise but really its not the story arch here that's so important but the conclusions brought up throughout during the dialogue and how characters react to the Prince's behaviour or philosophising. Pure Goodness does not always prevail it seems and the world cannot always accommodate the virtuous and what does that say?

I would recommend The Idiot but its one to take your time over due to the large amount of dialogue which tends to take centre stage over the plot elements (not a criticism)

I read this as part of a read-along hosted by the lovely Allie and A literacy Odyssey.
Posted by Jess


  1. Excellent review! I am a huge fan of Dosteovsky and this book. I've always been drawn to the section where Myshkin elaborates on what it feels like to face a firing squad and be pardoned at the last second.

  2. Hi, just wanted to let you know I've added your entry to the literary blog directory:
    Hope you find some great blogs through it and also get some new readers. There's a button on my blog for you to use.

    The only Dostoevsky I have ever read is Crime and Punishment, and I didn't love it enough to try another one.

  3. I love audio books but I made the mistake of listening to this on audio several years ago, and stopped 3/4 of the way through. I couldn't even make to the end. I think I need to try it again, because I do enjoy Russian lit.

  4. My foray into the world of Russian literature is seriously shocking. I have one Bulgakov to my name, and that's it. I want to read... anything... everything... just so as to reduce this tremendous gap in my reading.

    Notes From Underground, Crime & Punishment and some Nabokov should find their way into my world sometime soon. Wish me luck!

  5. Great review and you've read War and Peace? You're brave I'm waiting for a nuclear war before I dig that one out.

    I enjoyed The Idiot quite well, but felt a little (okay very) fatigued with it as it took me so long to read between all the other books I got to reading. Much preferred Crime and Punishment and to be truthful, The Idiot has never appealed to me above his others. However, so glad I've finally read it!

    The characters are completely bonkers aren't they. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought they were a bit... mad throwing their arms up in the air all the time. Mad!

    I also read it as part of A Literary Odyssey's radalong.