Posts Tagged ‘Dostoevsky’

Monday, January 25th, 2016

On rereading Crime and Punishment in the era of Making A Murderer.

Crime-and-Punishment_Oliver-Ready2016 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, Crime and Punishment. To celebrate, Leeds University is holding a Dostoevsky Day on the 19th of February and I’ll be taking part.

It seemed like a good excuse to read the novel again, especially as Penguin have recently published a new translation. And the translator, Dr Oliver Ready, is going to be there too.

It’s been a few years since I last read the book. The last time I did was when I was writing my own Dostoevsky-inspired novels, which feature Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Crime and Punishment. So, in all honesty, I wasn’t really reading as an average reader would. I was a little too focused on my own purposes.

There is a freshness and an immediacy about this new translation that I really like. The characters come alive with a clarity and energy that’s incredibly impressive. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading a translation – there’s none of that usual stiltedness, particularly in the dialogue. Yes, there are some oddities of expression, but that is as much to do with the different culture and the historic distance. (Thankfully it doesn’t follow the trend of many BBC adaptations, where they make everyone from the past speak like a character from Eastenders. Remember The Ark?)

There seem to be things that I notice in this version that had never struck me before. I would even say the novel makes more sense to me now than it has ever. I’m more awed than ever by its greatness. And, too late I’m afraid, more sensitive than I ever was at the time to the complete effrontery of my outrageous act of literary purloining. In retrospect, I am almost unable to forgive myself for my own ‘crime’. I can only turn my face to the wall and stare at the fascinating flower in the pattern of my wallpaper, as a hot sweat of shame breaks out all over me.

What I had forgotten was the novel’s amazing psychological focus. It’s as if Raskolnikov is being observed under some kind of psychic microscope. Every twist and turn of his thought process is laid out for us. Dostoevsky has entered into the mind of a murderer and he compels us to enter it too. Needless to say, it’s not a comfortable experience.

The narration of the events leading up to the murders, and the murders themselves, as well as the immediate aftermath, could hold their own against any piece of crime fiction writing in any era. It’s the observation of the telling detail that does it for me. There is a remorseless, not to say ruthless, honesty to Dostoevsky’s gaze. He refuses to look away, refuses to flinch, even at the most dreadful moment. And he holds our head in his his grip so we’re forced to look too. For example, he just has to show us the tortoiseshell comb – or the fragment of a tortoiseshell comb – pinning up the old pawnbroker’s hair, the second before Raskolnikov strikes her on the crown of her head with the butt of his axe. Genius.

But with its moral, philosophical, social and religious preoccupations, the book is so much more than just a crime novel.

I think one of the most extraordinary sequences in the book is Raskolnikov’s feverish dream in Part One, Chapter V, where he dreams he is a boy again with his father, and together they witness a group of drunken peasants gleefully beat an old nag to death. It’s one of the most savage, humane, awful, devastating, vivid passages in literature. Is it simply the dream of a criminally insane man, or a metaphor for the fate of Russia? Or an elegy for a lost innocence?

So I’m rereading the book at the same time as watching the Netflix documentary everyone is talking about, Making a Murderer (not literally, but you know what I mean). I’m up to about episode 5, so don’t spoil it for me. Anyhow a thought struck me the other night as I was watching it. It was the episode where the learning disabled sixteen-year-old Brendan Dassey is making and retracting his various statements. His mother asks him how he could say the things he said in his ‘confession’. He says he was ‘guessing’ – just like he used to guess when he did his homework. In the end, he writes a letter to the judge trying to set the record straight, with the heartrending postscript “Me and my mum think you are a good judge”. The whole thing just seemed so Dostoevskyan to me, especially as Crime and Punishment features a young man who falsely confesses to the crime.

Dostoevsky used to scour the newspapers for true crime stories, as well as tales of suicide and tragedy. There are references to real crimes in the novel. I couldn’t help thinking that he would have been riveted by the series.

Friday, January 13th, 2012

New (Gentle) readers start here.

It’s possible that every now and then someone stumbles on this blog entirely by accident. Looking for something else – I can’t begin to guess what – you find this. Me. I can only apologise.

In all likelihood, you will speed-click back to google. Get the hell out of there! It’s some writer’s blog! If that’s the case,  you won’t be reading this now. So if you are reading this, the chances are you decided to spend a moment or two exploring. Trying to find out who the hell this R.N. Morris guy is.

So maybe, every now and then, I should take a little time to say a bit about myself and what I’m doing here. On the internet. With a website and blog. And everything.

So yes. I’m a writer. Of fiction. Crime. Mostly. Murder stories. Set in the past. In Russia. Sorry, I tend to come over all inarticulate when I try to talk about myself and my writing. Awkward. Especially when every writer these days has to be his or her own publicist.

I’ve written a series of four novels set in St Petersburg the the 1860s and 1870s. The central character of the series is Porfiry Petrovich, a character I took from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment.

I’m told the books are at the literary end of the crime fiction genre. I don’t know anything about that myself. I just try to tell the stories as best I can.

If the series piques your interest, A Gentle Axe is probably the place to start. It’s the first book in the series. That’s not to say you have to read the books in order. Each one is designed to stand alone, but there is a progression in the relationships between the central characters. So. Up to you. The other books are A Vengeful Longing, A Razor Wrapped in Silk and The Cleansing Flames, the last of which was published in 2011. In April 2012, I’m publishing the first book in a new series, called Summon Up The Blood.

If you’ve got a kindle, you can download A Gentle Axe now for just £1.42. I know the prices change on amazon, so by the time you read this – if you get this far – the price may have changed.

Here are some of the things reviewers said about the book (which was called The Gentle Axe in America) when it came out:

“Lush, and exceptionally compelling, but take your time – R.N. Morris’s The Gentle Axe has a vast depth of Russian soul; mysterious, compassionate, and utterly irresistible. Alan Furst

“Morris’ recreation of the seamy side of 19th-century St Petersburg is vivid and convincing … As to who did it, Morris keeps the reader guessing until the end.” The Independent

“R. N. Morris has produced perhaps the most audacious police-inspector novel of the season with “The Gentle Axe.”….The tale hums along with controlled excitement, as if written by a Russian minimalist and rendered by a fine translator. The psychological and spiritual themes seem worthy of Dostoyevsky; there are traces of Gogol and Gorky, too. Such an accomplished book transcends pastiche.” The Wall Street Journal

It’s a satisfyingly grisly yarn… “CSI: St. Petersburg.”” The New York Times Book Review

“[A] smart, hypnotizing tale of crime and duplicity.” The New York Sun

“The story is told ably in the classic whodunit twisty-arc style, reminiscent of the sleuthing of Nick Charles, Sherlock Holmes and Columbo, the mussed-up character based partly on Dostoevsky’s trench-coat-clad Petrovich. Dirty Harry could easily be referenced, too…” The San Francisco Chronicle

“Morris has created an atmospheric St Petersburg, and a stylish set of intellectual problems, but what makes A Gentle Axe such an effective debut is its fascination with good and evil. It has earned its author the right to make use of the work of a greater writer.” Times Literary Supplement

“A Gentle Axe is tense, atmospheric and bristles with the kind of intelligence you’d read, well, Dostoevsky for… a piece of literary fun.” The Independent on Sunday


“Morris has dug deep into the Russian soul in this book, and his dark, dank, dangerous St Petersburg, with its snowbound, windswept streets and stinking slums, is brilliantly recreated. The hunt for the murderer is tense and atmospheric: the denouement brutally shocking and moving. A worthy sequel to one of the greatest novels ever written: and a cracking thriller in its own right.” The York Press


Friday, October 28th, 2011

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?

Okay, I was amazon checking again. I know, I know. I should be past that by now. But I was just checking out the amazon page for A Gentle Axe and I discovered something rather interesting, and a little wonderful. Listed among the Other Items Customers Buy After Viewing This Item was Crime and Punishment.

Now I know Dostoevsky doesn’t need any help from me, but I do find it extremely gratifying to think that one or two new readers might be finding their way to his great masterpiece via my novels.

In case you didn’t know it, my series of St Petersburg Mysteries – A Gentle Axe, A Vengeful Longing, A Razor Wrapped in Silk and The Cleansing Flames – feature Porfiry Petrovich, the investigating magistrate from Crime and Punishment. Essentially, my series wouldn’t exist without Dostoevsky’s book. So, as far as this series is concerned, I owe everything to Fyodor.

If I can send a few readers his way, then maybe it will go some way towards repaying the debt.

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