Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer, Mark Twain, Walt Disney, History.
I avoided this book for a long time: who wants to read a book about a person who's so good everyone around him thinks he's an idiot?
Boy, was I wrong. This is an intense and brooding novel, filled with Dostoevsky's usual array of deeply conflicted characters and blistering monologues. The idiot himself, Prince Myshkin, is no pushover: maybe he's a bit naive at times, but he insists on treating people as equals and assuming their good intentions until contrary evidence is overwhelming. He suffers from epilepsy, and in the course of the novel has a couple of seizures that dramatically alter the direction of the story.
Superficially, the novel is about Myshkin's conflicted relationships with two women: Aglaya, the youngest daughter of a distant relative, with whom he is in love; and Anastassya Filippovna, a "fallen woman" who's been fobbed off by her former lover and who seems to be drifting from one self-destructive relationship to another. Myshkin may have loved her once, but now he mainly pities her. Aglaya, who at one point seems willing to marry Myshkin, ultimately breaks off because of his obsession with Anastassya.
But that's only one small facet of this complex, teeming book. The characters are captivating, the scenes at times almost hypnotic in their intensity. I've only read a few of Dostoevsky's novels, but so far I'm inclined to say this is probably my favorite.
Robert Whitfield (=Simon Vance) gives a stellar reading. Of particular note is his ability to distinguish the voices of the many women in the book: sometimes the shading is subtle, but I always knew instantly who was talking. Well done, highly recommended.
trying to see the world through my ears
Though there are some audio quirks, they didn't significantly interfere with the listen (at least when formatted for ipod). I suppose the quick transmission to downloadable audio may keep the novel's price cheap?
I fell in love with this novel (and Gabriel Oak) when I was 14 and have re-read the paper version several times over the last 35+ years. I hesitated to download it, thinking such a beloved book would suffer in audio, but I really enjoyed the listen. I loved the narrator. She brought to life Hardy's poetic sections, especially those involving the English countryside and farming practices. As others have pointed out, the novel contains a somewhat misogynist portrait, but of a strong-ish heroine (for a Victorian character). In middle age, I felt the misogyny more deeply than back in the 70s, but I put up with it (and often much stronger) in Hardy's contemporaries and predecessors for the beauty if the prose and old fashioned romanticism and realism. Well, admittedly the ending is "too happy;" as someone pointed out --it wasn't Hardy's original ending; I think he had to tone down his realism to get published, but as a teen and now as an old fart, I love the ending. There's enough angst in the world and contemporary lit to suffice for me!
The listen motivates me to download and reacquaint myself with other Hardy novels and perhaps download his bio.