When I was at the very impressionable age of sixteen, an English teacher convinced me that The Brothers Karamazov was the best novel ever written. And I, of course, believed him.  He was one of those smarter-than-thou worldly sort of teachers, and I was a wide-eyed, eager suburban girl who had just begun to dream of places outside her cul de sac. The course was called something like “Great Books of World Literature” and you had to be accepted into it. I was thrilled to be there and gobbled up every assignment  — get the picture? So I read Brothers and was completely blown away by it in a life-changing, oh-my-God-this-is-so-deep kind of way. I then spent the next x-decades telling myself that, indeed, Dostoevsky was the most important writer of all time, and nothing could ever match the portrayals of Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha.

Fast forward to the advent of the ebook and the Christmas purchase of my ipad (my Russian ancestors must be turning in their graves). Ibooks was giving away some classic texts to get you hooked on the ebook experience. I browsed through the possibilities and found The Brothers K. What a perfect chance to reread this seminal novel, I thought, and after all these years. I’m not sure if the translation is any good — I’m still not sure — but what the hell. So I downloaded it, and around six weeks later I settled down to read. Two months and thousands of miles later, I am just coming up for breath.

Now, these are controversial times that we live in and, being a rather timid person, I try to shy away from controversial topics on my blog (you’ll notice I haven’t said anything about the ACE cuts — yet). But man oh man — what a slog these thousand pages have been. What a huge disappointment.  Okay, I get it – man makes God in his own image. The devil resides in us all. Love and hate are two sides of the same emotion. Here’s what Amazon’s blurb says:
     Dostoevsky searhes for the truth–about man, about life, about the existence of God. A terrifying answer to man’s eternal questions, this monumental work remains the crowning achievement of perhaps the finest novelist of all time. 

Without mentioning the Amazonian misspelling, I must say I disagree. Yes, this is a  huge achievement which struggles with the ultimate perplexities and fears of human life. Yes, the story of partricide and forbidden love is timeless. But sorry — for me, it’s not enough. This may well be a matter of fashion, of centuries of writing forcing us to expect something else from our novels, something more. And of course, with translation you can never feel sure about the use of language. But a novel is not a diatribe. It is not merely a psychological case study. It is a creation of a world which someone hundreds of years and miles away can enter into with ease and excitement. It is the use of language to reveal the gradual unveiling over time of characters, their dreams and realities. It must ultimately be a conversation between writer and reader, a give-and-take of heart as well as brain. Maybe my adolescent memories were still too strong, my expectations too high. But I was hugely disappointed and if I wasn’t the crazily loyal sort of reader that I am, I would have switched off the button on this one after page 300.  Maybe Crime and Punishment has withstood the test of time better. I know two years ago I reread War and Peace and was more amazed than ever. But I’m sorry Fyodor, not to mention Mr. Cates. I’m glad my rereading of The Brothers Karamazov is now finally over and I can get on with my life.