The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Reviewed by Guy Portman
Landowner and unapologetic voluptuary Fyodor Pavlovich is the neglectful father of three very different sons. There is the intellectual atheist Ivan, the self-destructive, amoral, passionate and guilt-ridden Mitya, and the youngest, Alyosha, a deeply spiritual and modest individual, who resonates a childlike innocence.
Tensions within the family reach breaking point with the heavy drinking patriarch’s pursuit of son Mitya’s mistress, the impetuous Grushenka. When Fyodor Pavlovich is found murdered, suspicions fall on the bitter Mitya, who is resentful both of his father’s unbecoming behaviour and the fact that he believes that he cheated him out of his mother’s inheritance. The family drama culminates in the ensuing investigation, interrogation and high profile trial.
The Brothers Karamazov is an epic novel in which Dostoyevsky adeptly analyses the human condition, exploring both our motivations and the inconsistencies that tarnish our personalities. The emotionally intriguing characters are often fervent, always complex, contradictory and fundamentally flawed.
Unconcerned with suspense and at times unfocused, The Brothers Karamazov witnesses Dostoyevsky intensely scrutinise his recurrent themes of guilt, salvation and God. Often prone to relentless pondering and evaluation, the narrative is interrupted frequently by lengthy and often turgid philosophical discourses of a religious, political and social nature. The central message is that in the absence of faith mankind’s good intentions are thwarted.
The novel embraces a classical, ornate prose style, with expansive sentences and paragraphs, and dialogue that takes the form of lengthy, continuous speeches. The characters universally utilise a formal, intellectual and elaborate speaking manner, in many instances speaking for many pages at a time.
The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky’s last novel, is a deeply philosophical book that though at times arduous, is a complex and carefully constructed classic that is widely regarded as one of the great literary works of the last century.