My vote goes to Crime and Punishment. The main reason is the simplicity and beauty of the plot. We have a central character—he commits a crime in the heat of passion, and then he spends the rest of the novel contemplating the ramifications of his action. During that time, the novel covers the fundamental topics of life: justice, mortality, good, evil, etc.
The Brothers Karamazov is complex in structure. It’s narrates the history of an entire family as opposed to one person. So it’s easy to become lost during the story, trying to remember what happened to which character. You almost need an Excel spreadsheet to follow along. It has some nice moments, for sure (The Grand Inquisitor” chapter being the most famous). But the reader has to work for these gems.
In my opinion, less is more. So if you have to chose one of Dostoevsky’s novels to begin with, make it Crime and Punishment. You’ll find it straightforward and beautifully written.
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This point is made in The Idiot by Dostoevsky (via the character Hippolyte).
“Let me add to this that in every idea emanating from genius, or even in every serious human idea–born in the human brain–there always remains something–some sediment–which cannot be expressed to others, though one wrote volumes and lectured upon it for five-and-thirty years. There is always a something, a remnant, which will never come out from your brain, but will remain there with you, and you alone, for ever and ever, and you will die, perhaps, without having imparted what may be the very essence of your idea to a single living soul.”
All the TED talks in the world cannot contain the complete essence of brilliance. All the self-help books, the Tony Robbins presentations…they’re all missing a key element: something that lies in the epicenter of brilliance.
Think of how a novel is written. Countless hours of contemplation, the dull hiss of the computer screen. The writer staring at a blank page, hoping to see the next paragraph of brilliance. How many thoughts are racing through his head? How many ideas that never make it to the page, yet are inextricably linked to the novel?
Think about a star athlete. Countless hours of practice, lifting weights in the back of the gymnasium. The moment of his public victory are proceeded by a million anonymous moments. How many days were not captured for the public eye? How many hours went un-televised, yet were tied to his ascension?
The genius is never fully understood. Something lies hidden—a spark in the fire that burns. An essential element, locked away from the vision of the crowd.
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