Book Club: Crime and Punishment

“Your worst sin is that you have destroyed and betrayed yourself for nothing.”

I bought this book years ago, as part of my attempt to read all the classic novels. Like the rest of the classic novels I bought at the time, it gathered dust in my book basket while I enjoyed more modern works. A little while ago, I was perusing Instagram as I do, when I came across the quote above and it struck a chord with me. I saved the post, as I do with all the quotes that I like, and did not think much of it. Then I saw it a few more times, and one post in particular had not just the name of the author but also the book the quote came from. I thought to myself: “I think I have this book“, lo and behold I did. This was the motivation I needed to finally read the book, and I am glad I did.

Crime and Punishment is a classic novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky and was published in 1866. It follows the story of Rodion Raskolnikov, a poverty stricken law student seemingly in the throes of mental anguish. He lives in squalor, and cannot even afford that squalor as he is owing his landlady rent; he barely eats, has dropped out of university due to lack of funds and is all around despondent. Rather than do something useful with his life however, he is content to brood over his misfortune and obsess about the wrong ways to improve his circumstances. He decides the only way out is to rob and murder the local pawn-broker; an elderly woman who keeps money and valuables in her house. A letter from his mother and sister drives him over the edge and strengthens his resolve to carry out the crime. It is all downhill from there. The rest of the book follows his internal turmoil as he agonises over what he has done; he goes in and out of delirium, his mental and physical state deteriorating rapidly as the (excruciatingly slow) hands of the law close in on him.

“Man has it all in his hands, and it all slips through his fingers from sheer cowardice.”

The crime is obvious- the murder. The punishment appears not to be that which is handed by a court of law, but Raskolnikov’s crisis of conscience. By the time the law caught up with him, he had been so severely tormented and ruined by his conscience that the law was a mercy. By the the end of the book, I had completely forgotten that Raskolnikov was described as “exceptionally handsome and well built.” He just seemed ragged, haggard and unwashed.

“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.”

Though the book primarily focuses on Raskolnikov, there are other interesting stories which intersect with his own. Chief of this is the story of Marmeladov; a drunkard who has squandered his money and job to drink, leaving his sick wife- Katerina Ivanova- to deal with the household and children in complete penury. Her life causes her so much anguish and she never fails to speak about her early life of nobility. Of all the characters, I was most sympathetic to Katerina and her children, including her stepdaughter Sofya. So much suffering for no purpose. I was bored by Raskolnikov; I just wanted him to be arrested already! I had no sympathy for him and just found him lazy and pretentious. Same with Marmeladov, but I could have a bit of sympathy for him as alcoholism is a disease and he seemed to acknowledge his failings. However a man who is content to let his family live in filth, and have his daughter resort to degrading measures to provide is gutter trash. Marmeladov and Raskolnikov are similar to me in that they both wallow in their despair rather than seeking help, and this causes chaos for those around them.

Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.

One of my favourite scenes in the book is that of the reception hosted by Katerina Ivanonva; the drama, the chaos, the suspense! I want to watch the film/stage adaptation of the book just for that scene. Katerina’s life was so sad and I felt bad for her. The scene also revived the book in a way, as I was starting to get tired.

After reading the book, I went on to do research about it (of course) and found a few interesting things. One; Dostoevsky was working on another book called The Drunkards when he conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment. The Drunkards was about Marmeladov, which was then merged into Raskolnikov’s story as one book. I found this interesting as I had thought to myself while reading the book that Marmeladov’s story could stand on its own. At some point I was even annoyed by the back and forth. Truly, the way the stories were merged is genius. This makes me wonder if I can just combine the countless drafts I have in my laptop into one story instead.

Another thing is that the book was not initially written in full, but instead published in twelve monthly instalments in a Russian journal. The book is split into 6 parts (and an epilogue), and I wonder if this has anything to do with it, as I did not really see the point of the different parts. This must have been de rigueur back in those days, as HG Wells’ The Invisible man was also published in instalments in a journal.

Perhaps the most interesting of all was learning about Dostoevsky himself, and the case that supposedly inspired the novel. Thanks to Wikipedia and the notes in the novel, I found out that Dostoevsky was actually sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted just moments before the firing squad was to go off! How surreal. Wow. He then spent ten years in exile composed of 4 years in a Siberian prison and 6 years in military service. There are references to all of this in the book, and it is fair to say that he put a lot of his experiences into Raskolnikov. Dostoevsky was also very poor, and was often in debt much like Raskolnikov (and really like a lot of the artists of the time who have now achieved fame and success posthumously). He was also a gambler and lost a lot of his money that way (similar to Marmeladov’s alcoholism and Raskolnikov’s penchant for impulsively giving out money even though he was broke). He also had a daughter named Sofya but she died in infancy. Are we sure Dostoevsky didn’t actually murder an elderly woman? (does this still count as slander/libel? If so I include the word “Allegedly”.)

The book gives a good idea of life in 19th Century St. Petersburg, Russia. There is talk of serfs and poverty; of economic change and growing discontent; of political movements and suppression. St. Petersburg is presented as this dirty, shabby place, infested with crime and debauchery; this sentiment carries on throughout the book and seeps into the characters. There are references to “current events” which would have been the talk of the town back then e.g. the university lecturer arrested for forgery, and the policeman arrested for attempted murder. There is also a fair bit of philosophical babbling about life and justice and this and that which makes more sense after learning about Dostoevsky’s real life. I’ll admit that I skipped past some of it as I was quite desperate eager to get to the end of the story. I also rolled my eyes at Raskolnikov’s attempts to rationalise the murders by suggesting that some men can be above the law. Still, there were some interesting theories.

“We’re always thinking of eternity as an idea that cannot be understood, something immense. But why must it be? What if, instead of all this, you suddenly find just a little room there, something like a village bath-house, grimy, and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is. Sometimes, you know, I can’t help feeling that that’s what it is.”

I am not all that familiar with Russian culture, and this may be the first Russian book I have read. I was therefore quite confused with the naming nomenclature in Russia. Most of the characters were introduced in one way, and then referred to by another name which left me so confused. For instance:

Rodion Raskolnikov (Rodya)
Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova (Dounia
Dmitry Prokofyich (Razumíkhin)
Pyotr Petrovich (Luzhin)
Sofya Semyonovna (Sonia)

It could very well be that these are known nicknames (I have heard that Russians called Natalia are often referred to as Natasha) but this drove me insane. I would be reading about Razumíkhin and then the name Dmitry Prokofyich would come up and I would think who on earth is this now??? I have also learnt that the author did not choose the names randomly and they are largely play on words which I guess would make sense to a native Russian speaker (born in the 1800s). I found this example online:

Raskolnikov is far from a random, raspy, sinister name. It comes from the Russian for ‘schism’, raskol, and its derivative raskolniki, which refers to a particular group of schismatics: namely, the Old Believers, who broke from the Russian Orthodox Church in the mid-seventeenth century.

The book is well deserving of its status as a classic; the writing is stunning in that way that makes me wonder if I will ever be able to conceive and deliver such work. Once I committed to read the book, I found that it was not as bad as I thought and was in fact easier to read than expected. Still, some parts dragged on and after an initial burst of energy, the final 100 pages took me over 2 weeks to finish. However, even in parts where I felt the story dragged, either from the age or style, I was still impressed by the writing. I read online that a few people thought the epilogue was anti-climatic and not befitting the book given the quality of its preceding pages. I can completely see where those people are coming from. For me however, the book was so intense that I was happy for the “come-down” in the epilogue. Could the book have done without it? Definitely. The final chapter ended with some ambiguity as to Raskolnikov’s fate and I guess there is some power in this ambiguity. This reminds me of Kafka’s The Trial. I do appreciate authors taking the time to tie up all loose ends but I can see how it may have cheapened the whole story. Personally I wanted to see Raskolnikov punished for his actions so I appreciated the epilogue but I was not satisfied by it. I’ll leave it at that.

This was an intense book in that so much time was spent in the heads of people. There was so much sadness and poverty. Did anyone really get a happy ending?

One thing about me? I love a good quote that I can relate to. It is one of my favourite things about reading; finding a quote that so beautifully articulates something I have felt, or that provides the motivation that I need. There were a few such quotes in the book:

“Don’t be overwise; fling yourself straight into life, without deliberation; don’t be afraid – the flood will bear you to the bank and set you safe on your feet again.”

Only to live, to live and live! Life, whatever it may be!

Oh one last thing; Dostoevsky predicted Covid-19. Of course.

He had dreamed that the whole world was condemned to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen ones. Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will.

Netflix and Crime: Killer Ratings

Netflix has been so good to me lately; by good I mean Netflix UK has offloaded a bunch of crime content not just from the USA as usual but around the world, particularly Brazil; by lately I mean in the past month which is when I started writing this post.

The first of this new batch of content that I watched is Killer Ratings. The tagline/synopsis whatever was all it took to draw me in and I was hooked from start to finish. “The true-life story of Brazilian TV host Wallace Souza, who was accused of literally killing for ratings, and using his crime TV show to cover up the grizzly truth.” How could I not watch it?

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How to avoid being murdered.

After nearly two decades of religiously feeding my paranoia with a multitude of crime shows, I believe I have discovered a list of unguaranteed ways to avoid ending up on these shows as a victim.

First off, Never light up a room. Anyone who watches crime shows knows what I am talking about. Every victim on these shows is describes as having lit up every room they walked into which when you add two plus two means there is a direct correlation between a bright personality and the risk of murder.

In the same vein, Never give the shirt off your back to anyone, least of all a stranger. It is amazing just how many of the victims would have given the shirt off their back to a stranger without thinking about it. At the very least you may die of hypothermia and there are probably rules against walking around shirtless. If you must, go home and retrieve some shirts to donate or just leave it all together.

Have some enemies: At least 73.48% of the victims on the show “have no enemies” and their families can never think of anyone “who would harm them in anyway.

Close your doors, even (especially) if you live in a town where this sort of thing never happens.

Do not leave your windows open regardless of how hot it gets. Bugs and murderers are attracted to open windows like moth to a flame.

Get cameras in your house and review them regularly while you are at work. This way you can tell if some crazed psycho has snuck into your house and is laying in wait for you. A camera will also help track those who may be secretly living in your house; you’ll be surprised by how many people have been killed by secret squatters.

Do not allow anyone take out life insurance on you. This is probably the most important one! The love of life insurance money is the root of most spousal murders!

Do not enter a stranger’s car under any circumstances. If a stranger stops you to ask for directions, take off running. If they ask to give you a lift, take off running. If your car breaks down and they stop to help, take off running. Just take off running, in any case this will help put you in better shape to fight off any attackers.

Do not let anyone take you to a second location. If you get attacked fight as hard as you can to avoid being bundled into a vehicle and driven away. Do not willingly enter a car even if there is a gun pointed to your head because you will most likely be murdered in this second location, or kept as a sex slave in an undergound dungeon. The only reason to be compliant with bad guys is if that will help spare your life. Otherwise fight like hell. Let them kill you in that first position rather than risk your family never finding out what happened to you.

Do not get out of your car to talk to anyone, especially in deserted areas at odd hours. If you see someone in distress, drive on and call the police to help them. Do not come out of your car as you will most likely be attacked and murdered.

Regularly review your spouse’s internet search to see if they are googling things such as “how to make wife’s death look like accident”How much cyanide is needed to kill a 5’3 140lbs woman?“How to get away with murder (not tv show)” “How to pass polygraph”.

Be suspicious of all drinks/foods provided by your spouse. Routinely test meals/drinks given to you by your spouse for a litany of poisons including but not limited to arsenic, anti freeze, cyanide, thallium, and strychnine. Be especially suspicious if they give you a drink just before your bath. There is a high chance they have put in a lot of sleeping pills to make you fall asleep in the bath and drown.

Review your husband’s academic records: Listen, I have seen at least five cases in which the husband claims to have graduated from medical school (it’s always medical school) when in fact they have never registered. They keep up the charade for as long as possible and when this is no longer feasible they kill their wife to keep the secret from being exposed. If your spouse says he is in medical school call the school to ensure he is enrolled there. Visit him on campus, attend his graduation and make sure his name is called out.

Remain single: You are very likely to be murdered by a spouse/romantic interest. How many times have we heard the 911 call placed by a person who has just discovered their dead spouse only to find out the caller is the one who pulled the trigger? Of course we could all tell by the fake breathy scripted cries for help on the phone call. It is really hard to fake a convincing call when you have blood on your hands. Just remain single babes.

Remain childless: Yup, a few episodes of Killer Kids will have you thinking twice about those bundles of joy. In addition, if you are childless you will never have to worry about being murdered by your ex while embroiled in a nasty custody battle (see also; remain single).

Be very aware of your surroundings and switch up your routine: This is key because you never really know who is watching you and monitoring your schedule. I myself have been stopped a few times by men who wanted to chat, and I always find it unsettling when they say “I see you walking around here all the time” because if they are noticing me and know my schedule then so could a psycho stalker.

Avoid all confrontations at all costs!  Do not ever confront anyone for any reason because they will most likely kill you. If you are trying to leave an abusive partner, do it secretly and then send them a DM/email. If you suspect an employee/friend is stealing from you, secretly gather proof and go to the police. Under no circumstances should you confront someone, and certainly not by yourself. A person who is stealing from you will not hesitate to kill you. People will go to extreme lengths to hide their secrets and shame, and murder will be on their mind. If you must confront someone in person, do it with an army of backup and arm yourself with pepper spray (Apparently pepper spray is illegal to carry in some places, so deodorant may work; aerosol spray not roll on).

Never leave your house: This is the surest way to get murdered. But you are also likely to be murdered in your house so hey.

Have no friends as they are likely to murder you.

Do not get life insurance!!!

Do not ignore red flags!

There you have it; a few tips that may or may not protect you from becoming a murder victim. Feel free to share any tips that I may have missed.

I will end this post with links to stories about a few men who pretended to be doctors for years. It is truly incredible that they were able to get away with such deception for so long.

British Indian man who pretended to be a doctor for seven years attempts to kill wife, mother-in-law and brother-in-law out of fear that his secret would be exposed.

French man who pretended to be a doctor for 18 years kills wife, children and parents.

Utah man murders pregnant wife after she discovers he lied about being enrolled in medical school.

Happy reading and stay safe!

To kill or not to kill?

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”  Frederick Nietzsche 

As I have gotten older, It has been interesting to see how mind has evolved and how my views on issues ranging from corporal punishment to abortion to the death penalty have changed. 

The death penalty is a contentious issue, and has been hotly debated for a long time. It is once again in the news thanks to the Bali Nine– a group of people who were arrested in Bali for various drug smuggling offences and sentenced to death. It is common knowledge that drug smuggling carries an automatic death sentence in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Some people feel the Bali Nine and other drug smugglers knew the risks they were entering and so deserve the death sentence. Others feel that the death sentence is wrong, especially as these people have already served lengthy jail sentences and have allegedly been rehabilitated.

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