A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
Another book that sat on my shelf unread, this time since 1986. 936 pages. This was nineteenth-century entertainment: a book that might take readers twenty hours to read. I’m not sure twenty-first century readers believe they have twenty hours to spend on one book. Even the denouement and epilogue take up the last one hundred pages. My mental image of this book was always four brothers kicking their heels up, Cossack style, in great revelry, but, ah, no.
One of the four is said to be illegitimate, Smerdyakov. The eldest of the remaining brothers is Mitya or Dmitry. Next is Vanya or Ivan. And the youngest is Alyosha or Alexei. The Russian literary custom of assigning multiple names to a character broadens his or her dynamic, more so than the Anglo/American Bob and Robert or Jim and James. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the author uses a different name depending on the context.
No need to belabor the plot: Readers become acquainted with all four brothers. Certain conflicts arise between father and sons, particularly father and Dmitry. Father is found dead and one of the sons is accused of his murder. Like all epic novels, the author spends a great deal of leisurely time acquainting readers with each character, even the minor ones, so that one’s curiosity nearly rivals the curiosity one has in waiting to see what happens next in, say, a soap opera or an evening TV series. Only with much more gravitas. I’m certainly glad I spent the time reading this novel with a time-worn theme that surprisingly still reads fresh almost two hundred years after its writing.