The Idiot by Dostoyevsky
You know how it is: it’s the holidays and you’re looking for a good book to pass the time. Well, if it’s a light read you’re after, I would certainly steer clear of this novel, in which Dostoyevsky explores the absurdity and inherent selfishness of the human race. If you weren’t already dripping in cynicism, the story of this Russian prince’s journey through love, war and politics will render you the sarcastic eye-roller your mother always feared. Yet somehow, the book actually retains a playful, tongue-in-cheek style that leaves it an enjoyable read.
As a feminist, I must admit to finding his portrayal of women alarmingly narrow-minded: Algalaya and Nastassya, the two female love interests, are nothing if not the embodiment of the Madonna/whore binary. But it seems picky to fixate on this flaw when the rest of the story is bursting with larger-than-life literary creations with barely pronounceable names. The protagonist is a triumph of character development – a complex man from a sheltered home, with a naïve belief in the benevolence of humanity, and a desperate hero complex. Endearing, and never annoying, he acts as a touchstone throughout a story that seems to have very few anchors.
The book is something of a roller coaster – mad tangents by the narrator on the issues of love and capital punishment interrupt the manic dialogue. You can actually almost see the writer go off on tangents, before making an effort to drag himself back into the story he decided to write. A relaxing read? Perhaps not, but if you are willing to dive into the madness, Dostoyevsky’s novel might be just crazy enough to keep you hooked.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Okay, okay, I get it. Thrillers with a strong female lead are making a comeback. Since Gone Girl, it seems that bookshelves are groaning with the weight of ominous looking softcovers promising a twist ending no one will see coming. Still, the Girl on the Train is one of the few books in that genre that managed to crack into the most popular books at the moment, even securing a Hollywood adaptation, starring Emily Blunt.
Speaking of Blunt, I must speak my mind. I did not like this book. Not only did I not like this book, but I had to restrain myself from hurling it at the wall in frustration as I read it. Admittedly, I did not have the highest of expectations, but even my low bar was not met.
Perhaps I am being a tad judgemental. The story itself is enjoyable enough, and the tone of mystery is upheld by changing narrative styles and a hefty dollop of foreshadowing. Still, it is hard to back the protagonist, a character who manages to be as frustrating as she is impulsive. Yes, it was a page-turner, but each page was interrupted by me angrily commenting on the stupidity of the main characters’ decisions.
My opinion is not a popular one, judging by the widely positive repletion the novel received. So maybe I’m overly critical. Don’t take my word for it… pick up a copy and judge for yourself!