Sunday, July 29, 2007

Notes From the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes From the Underground represents my second excursion into Dostoevsky, after reading The Brothers Karamazov last year. Notes was more or less beach reading for me, since I read most of it on a beach in North Carolina while fighting off killer stingrays and trying to keep my dog from attacking copperheads.

Notes focuses on an unnamed protagonist who narrates the book. It's divided into two sections, the first of which is a mostly plotless character study and the second of which is the story proper. I n first part, we learn the the narrator dislikes his jobs and tries to make things as difficult as possible for his customers. Or maybe he doesn't. The protagonist's indecision about how he really feels is an ongoing theme of the first half of the book, where virtually every statement that he makes is then deconstructed, deciphered, reconstructed, and then questioned further. He convinces himself that he desires pain and loneliness, that laziness is a virtue if it is practiced intentionally, and that there is a deeper need in him that he doesn't fully understand. All of this is run through with a self-loathing born of his inability to relate properly to the world and ideologies around him. Sound confusing and a little pretentious? It is, but it's only about 40 pages long and is pretty interesting despite that.

Possible spoilers below.

Part two is really the main part of the book. It's about twice as long as part one, and it contains a plot, or, better said, three loosely connected vignettes demonstrating the practical results of the philosophy in part one. The first two vignettes are tragically comical. In the first, he buys a new coat for the express purpose of wearing it while bumping into a man who doesn't even know he exists, thinking that a nicer manner of dress will add some significance to the collision. In the second, he invites himself along to the birthday party of a man he despises, and spends most of the party pacing by himself and making snide remarks about whatever topics arise. The third story is tragic, as he meets a young prostitute and alternately loves and hates her until finally driving her away, thus cementing, I guess, his misanthropic tendencies.

if I had to draw a comparison, Notes has a lot in common with something like Catcher in the Rye. The narrator has served as a type for many misanthropic protagonists throughout literature, and it's interesting to see the parallels. Besides that, it's a pretty good story, but not exactly light reading. And, that is all.

Oh, I like this cover a lot better than the cover of my copy.

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