This should have been a four actually because I have enjoyed it, but I decided to do something I don't usually do which is read other books in between. So in the end I read this over such a long period of time that I feel my overall enjoyment of it has been tarnished. Lesson to be learnt: I should stick to good old book monogamy, with perhaps only the odd non-fiction thrown in.
The Idiot is actually surprisingly light hearted, which was not something I expected after reading (and enjoying) Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky does have a keen understanding of human psychology and is able to dig down into a person's soul so deep that you feel these people are real.
The Idiot, is in fact not an idiot at all. In fact he is probably the sanest of them all. They were all slightly bonkers - waving their arms around, pulling funny faces and running around St Petersberg acting completely deranged. Everyone else was obsessed with money, with climbing the social ladder and social status. On the other hand, Priince Myshkin is a kind, sweet natured person who has deep religious beliefs and utterly selfless. Yet he is portrayed as naive and gullible by all the other characters in the story.
I think it's good to have a little bit of an understanding of Russian cultural history when reading this book. I read half of Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figues a while back (before having to take it back to the library after accumulating a few fines). Many Russians felt that Russia was being sucked into Western capitalisation - something which they saw as increasingly immoral and many wished to recapture what was 'Russian' and reject any Western influence.
Russia for a long time had been trying to emulate the West, but were forever ridiculed by the efforts. It became a superficiality. The Russian Aristocrats all spoke French, many of them could not understand Russian.
There was a lot of this in The Idiot, some of which I only partially understood. I'm glad I read at at least that half of the book before starting this book. It has certainly helped.
Overall though, I did feel that Dostoevsky laboured his point a little too much. There wasn't a great deal of story despite the 652 pages I read through. He just kept stirring this pot of crazy characters until they were all wound up into a complete tiz. There were so many references to how the West was setting into Russia like a wet rot. Selfishness, greed, the loss of religion as people became more and more obsessed with becoming rich and gaining status - leaving Russia to disintegrate.
Maybe I'm missing some of the more subtle references. It wasn't as if Crime and Punishment had much of a story either, but somehow it just seemed to contain more. Perhaps I just didn't really appreciate the slightly more tongue in cheek humour in The Idiot. Either way, it won't be my last Dostoevsky.