As a huge fan of Dostoyevsky I have to admit this novel didn’t quite do it for me. Although the choice of Golyadkin as the exclusive point of view is effective in the first part of the novel, I think it ends up being a rather limiting one, particularly in terms of reader engagement.
In the first few chapters, this perspective works to create suspense because what is going on seems strange, unlikely, unreal but it is presented as an objective fact. The reader’s curiosity is piqued and we are engaged trying to make sense of what we are reading; the choice of POV has been successful. However, as things become increasingly fantastical and unrealistic the reader sees behind the appearance of objectivity the workings of a tortured psyche, and understands that the “facts” are really nothing more than the distorted perceptions of Golyadkin.
This is when the POV stopped working for me. Events continue to happen and we continue re-interpret them as hallucinations and so it goes without anything really posing a new challenge for the reader. I had one remaining questions as I turned page after page in this long progression of events: How bad will the end be for Golyadkin: will he only lose his job, will he be admitted into a mental institution, will he be injured/killed as a result of his misperception of reality?
The reaction of other characters to Goldyakin is evidence that, like us, they too have understood that he is paranoic and delusional. But I think the inclusion of their point of view in the narrative would have acted as a counterpoint to Goldyakin’s perspective and by contrast would have enriched the otherwise uni-dimensional nature of this narrative.
So at times it feels as if all we are doing is following the ramblings of an unremarkable and mentally unstable character. Is there anything really valuable and unique in all this? Yes, absolutely yes! The fact is that although far from the depth and richness of his later novels, this work is an early exercise on the dissection of the psyche, a glimpse into the subtle and mysterious workings of the mind. Dostoyevsky boldly steers away from the psychology of common individuals and dwells instead on the unusual, or less known aspect of our minds.
For example, a few times Goldyadkin is compelled to act in precisely the same way in which he decided not to act but a second ago. This illustrates vividly the irrational aspect of the self and the strange unconscious impulses that have such a profound impact in life. And considering that the writer was only 23 at the time this is quite an achievement.This early work shows the extraordinary gift he has for capturing those remote, unexplored aspects of the self, a talent that he would develop into an unparalleled mastery that was his richly unique contribution to the world.