1. Well worth a read: the progression of the plot may be slow-going before the first climax, but the pace does pick up thereafter. In the anguished footsteps of the protagonist Raskolnikov, the Russian novel traces the dilemmas he confronts, and the many unexpected developments also make for an exciting read.
2. Inevitability of the conclusion: in spite of these developments there is – however – an inevitability of the conclusion for Raskolnikov, which becomes more apparent as the novel progresses. There is nonetheless greater uncertainty associated with the other characters.
3. Tight group of characters: lengthy or unnecessary expositions are kept to a minimum, with a tight group of characters who are closely related to one another (centred around Raskolnikov, of course). There is also rich characterisation, since their voices and moral compasses are quite distinct from one another, and the characters are necessarily contrasted with the protagonist too. Razumikhin’s loyalty to Raskolnikov is remarkable in this regard.
4. Tightness of the setting: likewise, the same can be said of the setting against which the novel is based, revolving around a few key locations which Raskolnikov frequents. Dostoyevsky pays close attention to descriptions of these places: the stuffy room in the police station, the cramped apartments Raskolnikov and Sonya stay in, as well as the streets of Saint Petersburg (which I have visited).
5. The mothers: of all the characters, the mothers – Pulkheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikova (Raskolnikov’s mother) and Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova (the wife of the former civil servant, Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov) – experience the greatest disruptions and the harshest circumstances, and both suffer the same unfortunate fate. Despite (again) a sense of inevitability the narratives of their struggles, Katerina Ivanovna Marmeladova in particular, are heart-wrenching.
6. The complex protagonist: Raskolnikov is a fascinating character, and much has been made of his vacillations from madness to his delusions of Napoleon-like grandeur and to his acts of charity. He has moments of apprehension – especially in the face of perceived danger – which adds to the uncertainty of the plot, with his dithering oftentimes a mystery to his family and friends as well as the reader.
7. Crime and punishment: as the title suggests, following the first climax that is the crime, Raskolnikov is tormented not only by individuals who suspect his involvement with the crime – triggered by his suspicious behaviour, in his delirium – but by his own expectations and ultimately his conscience. Punishment in this sense goes beyond the law, with the persistence of his internal struggles.
8. Poverty in Saint Petersburg: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is one of my favourite novels, and it has been said that Dostoyevsky was inspired by Hugo. I was struck by the descriptions of poverty in the city, especially the squalid and less-than-pleasant streets – not too different from Hugo’s depiction of Paris. There is also a focus on the implications of poverty and the conditions which follow.
9. Dialogues and monologues: the dialogues in the novel are punctuated by concurrent thoughts or monologues, and the most notables ones are the conversations between Raskolnikov with inspector Porfiry Petrovich. Despite the lack of evidence, he seeks to obtain a confession from the protagonist through confusing monologues, and these exchanges are punctuated by the thoughts of the irritable Raskolnikov. These thoughts also feature in his exchanges with the other characters in the novel.
10. Philosophical and religious underpinnings: there are philosophical underpinnings to the novel, with Russian nihilism mentioned quite a number of times. Moreover, there are also religious allusions, especially with the introduction of the devout Sonia and the development of her relationship with Raskolnikov.