I’ve just finished re-reading Dostoevsky’s great novel Demons (also known as The Devils or The Possessed).
I was looking at it again as preparation for my own next novel, which will be set amongst the Russian revolutionaries and nihilists of the 1870s. One of the things that struck me most about Dostoevsky’s book is just how funny it is. Dostoevsky is a brilliant satirist and parodist, and though some of his targets may no longer be relevant today (eg, the Westernising liberal intellectuals of his generation), the humanity of his depictions means that his characters transcend their satirical, or even pamphleteering, origins. I’m thinking of Stepan Verkhovensky, who must be one of the greatest comic creations in literature.
Dostoevsky a comic writer? Some people who only know him as the great Russian miserablist may find that hard to believe, but there are several laugh-out-loud moments in the Demons. Of course, Dostoevsky being Dostoevsky, he has moments of high farce next to scenes of great grimness and tragedy. With plenty of metaphysical and spiritual exploration thrown in for good measure. There’s a terrorist cell, a duel, a number of murders, a Byronic anti-hero who has women throwing themselves at him, quite a few suicides, Victorian pathos (I had to dab my eye at one point during the reunion between Shatov and his wife), and even a controversially censored chapter with a storyline about an unspeakable crime.
Honestly, what more could you want from an author?