What do you do when you read a somewhat disappointing work by a literary virtuoso ? Well, if you pose that question to me, my answer is : I got scared. I am honestly afraid to review, – let alone criticize, this book of Dostoevsky that fell short of my expectations of him. I mean, who am I, really ? An unpublished writer with too much idle time ? But I digress..
If you’re a seasoned Dostoevsky reader, you would by now associate him with astounding insight of human psychology. You would also probably admire his presentation of tortured souls in the league of Crime and Punishment. And let’s not forget The Gambler too, for his eerily haunting and precise depiction of a gambler’s mind. On that particular area, Devils did not let me down either.
What got me questioning is his plot utilization here. While a stream-of-consciousness work may understandably be non-linear, I honestly think that Devils could use a little balance in its execution. If you’re not familiar with the term balance, it’s that amount of pages one divides between various stages of introduction, conflict, climax and resolution ( Yes, I use the term loosely here ).
It’s not that I’m protesting. Some of the books glittering achievement can be found in the long conflict stage. Yet I felt that the book ended too soon once I entered the actual murder of the maverick revolutionary student ( the climax stage ). It’s analog to riding a roller coaster with only one final, short drop. You get the idea.
Still, it is one of his most influential books. In Devils, he even daringly introduced a subject as controversial as an underage rape. This scene gained him a lot of public rage that in subsequent early editions, the related pages were erased. Only in recent years the episode was re-introduced to the book.
In the end, my take on Devils is that this book still earns a place in any serious reader’s mandatory reading list. But not as a first introduction to Dostoevsky. For that purpose, try Brothers Karamazov instead.