Looking back on “The Brothers Karamazov”

It is now about six months since  I finished The Brothers Karamazov, and, although I have read some top drawer stuff since, it continues to haunt my mind. And yet, if someone were to ask me if I liked it, I really wouldn’t know what to answer. Looking back over the posts I put up here at the time, I can see that, quite frequently, I found myself disturbed, I found myself puzzled – I found myself thinking that certain things didn’t seem to make much sense; at times, I even found myself shaking my head and thinking this won’t do. If a detractor were to go through with me, item by item, all the shortcomings or alleged shortcomings of the novel, Iwould possibly nod away in agreement on just about every point. And yet, for all that, The Brothers Karamazov continues to fsacinate me – it haunts my mind like little else I’ve read. Is that not strange?

Literature is not like ice cream flavours. I could say with a fair degree of crtainty that I like vanilla flavour but not strawberry, but it’s not possible to make such cut and dried statements when it comes to literature. We may admire books that we can see are flawless products of the finest artistry, and yet remain untouched; and conversely, works riddled with flaws can take over one’s mind.

This is not to say, of course, that artistry is irrelevant: that would be silly. Literature can only really be judged by literary criteria after all, and a work devoid of literary qualities is a bad work. The Brothers Karamazov clearly does not fall in that category. But it is a work of such individuality and idiosyncracy, and of such undoubted stature, that it compels us to re-assess what our literary criteria are. It compels us, inded, to re-assess everything we had previously taken for granted.

So, as to whether or not I like The Brothers Karamazov, I really don’t know. But it increasingly strikes me as in irrelevant question.


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