March 16, 2004
Crime and Punishment - and cheating

Yesterday evening I gave a speech about culture, etc., which seemed to go well enough. However, during it, I overheard myself say something which I had never heard myself say before.

This was in answer to a question about which was my favourite movie, and which was my favourite novel. I started by saying that, thank goodness, we don't have to decide.

But one should not entirely dodge such questions, and I found myself replying that two of my favourite films were: Some Like It Hot, which appears on lots of people's lists of best movies ever: and: a far less well known darkly comic thriller called Into The Night. If you follow that link you will find that perhaps this is one of those cult favourites that lots of people like, on the quiet. I'd forgotten that the cast is so full of movie directors, which is a sure sign of cultness.

Metropolitan never got a mention.

But next came the bit that I really wasn't expecting. I said that as I get older I realise that there are great things (I think I mentioned the "towers of Chicago"), and great works of art, that I will never experience, great novels I will never read. And I then said that of the novels that I have not yet read, the one I am most determined that I shall read, before I die, is Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky.

And that's true. For some reason I have got it into my head that this is one of those artistic pinnacles that I simply must find or make the time to scale. Someone or something seems to have convinced me that this is one of those great works of art that I simply must not go to my grave in serious ignorance of.

Where did I get this notion from? I really don't know. Just a lot of people telling me that it is supremely great, together with the fact that it is not that enormous, by the standards of Great Literature.

My procedure when wishing to acquaint myself with great works of literature is not to just read them, but rather to grab hold of as many movie of TV adaptations of the work in question, and get a rough idea of the story, and of the main characters, into my head. Then, I dip in among the book itself, as if doing a jigsaw puzzle, assembling a bit of the picture here, and a bit of it there, and gradually joining up the bits until I have the whole thing read. After which, if I really like it, I continue to dip.

This is because I find literature really, really difficult to read, in the manner enjoyed by its first readers. Without visual aids like these, I just haven't the patience, the attention span, or the sheer concentrated application to get through these things. Even the longest and most intractable piece of classical music (a Wagner opera for example) only lasts a few hours. A great book can occupy me for weeks.

I suppose the truth is that I don't like literature very much. I admire it. I realise that it matters, and I want to at least experience the occasional literary masterpiece, just to know how that feels. But the process of ploughing through hundreds of pages of prose while trying nevertheless to keep in mind exactly who all these people are and what they have all been doing is beyond me.

Perhaps I am actually a very slow reader. Maybe that is my problem. I don't know. But one way or another, my choices are, either find out about these great books with the help of the twentieth century movie and TV industries, or: remain for ever in ignorance of them.

Commenters are of course free to inform me that I am mistaken about the nature of my own pleasures and capacities, and that I would greatly enjoy reading right through this or that great novel (without any help from Hollywood or the BBC), based on the notion that because the commenter enjoyed reading this great novel, so would I,if only I were to do it. But the comments I now actively seek are suggestions for who has done a really good (movie or TV - available on DVD) adaptation of the one and only Crime and Punishment.

I've just done some googling in connection with C&P, for the first time, and I rather think that this might help.

Maybe it is cheating, but in this particular matter I either cheat, or flunk entirely.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:59 PM
Category: LiteratureMovies