Well this took me a while to get through. I read three other books in the middle of this one. Seven hundred pages and yea it was worth it.
The Possessed is about a small town in Russia where people are grappling with the meaning of God, the virtues of socialism, and the value of loyalty. There’s an older guy and an older woman who are close. Then his estranged son comes to visit and just turns everything upside down. Peter is a maniac, starving for a leadership opportunity. He leads discussions and debates towards death and violence. In the end, the narrator (one of the guys in the town who knows everyone and everything) says the method was to create chaos in order to get people to be desperate enough to follow a new world order.
My copy of this book was delicate as hell. If your nail skimmed the edge, the paper tore a little. If you tossed it in your bag, a piece of the cover might bend and eventually break off. It was a perfectly clean copy in the beginning, but by the end, the book looks like hell. This copy was also physically hard to read because the spine pinches the pages in a way that makes you have to really bend it open to see all the words. But even still, the experience of reading the book was cool. What’s best about Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s writing is how detail oriented it is. The Possessed is a novel of manners in that way. The narrator is watching people’s facial expressions, their body language, and their energy for information.
And you know just as I was getting restless at the end, ready for the book to be over in the last 100 pages, Dostoyevsky picks up the pace and sets forth a whole new level of disaster. This guy Shatov is about to get set up the next day and doesn’t know it, but his wife comes to town after three years and she’s obviously sad as hell and sick seeming. He’s thinking to himself, how could whichever guy she’s been seeing have left her in this state? Then it turns out she’s about to give birth and the two of them are so happy. He’s proud of the baby and loves it, and I was so hurt knowing what was coming. It gets worse, but I won’t say the whole ending. Just know that’s how Dostoyevsky works–he is the tragedy king. Period.
Best line is by Shatov after his wife gives birth: “There were two and now suddenly there’s a third–a new human being, a new spirit, entire, complete, such as no human hands could fashion; a new thought, a new love. It’s even frightening. There’s nothing greater than this in the world!” (Dostoyevsky 612)