The Unique Sadness of the Unicorn Man

May 8, 2012

That character that you (mis)translated as a unicorn, was in fact Marmeladov.  Don’t let his seemingly joyous sounding name fool you, for far from being a mythical, single-horned equine, he is instead, The Saddest Man In The World.

Your “unicorn” is an inveterate alcoholic, he’s drunk his family to penury–not once, but twice!  This has resulted in a daughter who has turned to prostitution and a wife whose love has evaporated.  Oh how I wish for a hovercraft sub-plot a la Back to the Future Part II (Or as I call it Just To The Future)!

I’ve spent some time pondering what role Marmeladov plays in the larger narrative and here’s what I’ve got as working hypotheses:

  • Perspective Fairy:  Marmeladov is there to show us (and Raskolnikov) that things could be worse.  Sure you didn’t get as much money for your pretty trinket at the pawn shop, but at least you aren’t forcing your loved ones to debase themselves for a kopek or two.
  • Humanity Mirror:  Marmeladov shows us that Raskolnikov is a good person…sure he’s thinking about murder via italicized adjectival nouns, but he’s not all bad.  He gives some of his much needed lucre to the Marmeladovs in their time of need.
  • Inveterate One-Upper:  We’ve all been there…you’re telling the story of your bad day and there’s that guy at the bar who, of course, has had it worse.  “Oh you had three meetings today, boo hoo.  I was  in meetings from 7AM til 8PM…and my daughter’s a prostitute because of me.”  “You‘ve got a busy weekend?!  I have to sit here all day and drink until my wife’s last ounce of love is completely gone…that’s what I’d call busy!”

…and I think he’s a symbol of purity and grace.

I hope your reading has more unicorns and hovercrafts…they sure do brighten up this book!



Translation? Uhh…Who Said Anything About Translation

May 2, 2012

Wait a second…we’re reading this book in translation. Ok, had I known that I have a feeling I would be quite a bit further along. I am two chapters in, but those two chapters were the end result of about 15 hours of reading. (It is ssslllooowww going with Dostoevsky in one hand and my Russian to English Dictionary in the other.)

I think my favorite part so far is when Raskolnikov meets a gregarious, enchanted unicorn bellied up to the bar in Chapter 2. (Did I mention, when I get tired of translating I just start making stuff up? That’ll be important to know.) All I can say is that I don’t know what that unicorn did, but he sure did seem to make his unicorn wife angry. I am guessing he stole her unicorn hovercraft.

In reality, I am reading the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation. I mean really, Constance Gardner is so 1991. (This version published in 1992.) Sorry, to miss out the fun of reading the Gardner version. When you quote long passages in formal mid-century English, I will let you know what the jazzed-up 90s version is like. It’s kind of like you’re listening to Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” and I am listening to Natalie Cole’s “Unforgettable.” The same story with a different flavor.

So, two chapters in: I am intrigued. Looking forward to reading Chapter 3.


P.S. I am the only one who wishes there were unicorns in this book? Well, unicorns and hovercrafts.


Lost In Translation

April 19, 2012

Hello dear reading twin!

We’ve both been lax in our reading/posting and I’m sure we’re both feeling guilty about it…so why not mire ourselves in that classic of guilt and regret Crime and Punishment.  I don’t know a lot about this book (other than the fact that it’s a “classic”) but I do slightly remember the Made For TV Movie starring Patrick Dempsey and Julie Delpy and if I recall correctly anguished delinquency was running amok (okay I really only remember Patrick Dempsey’s sad eyes–they looked very regretful).

I noticed as I started reading yesterday that my copy of the book is translated into English by Constance Garnett and it reminded me a quotation regarding this very translator that I came across years ago (like 5 years ago) and I’ve always found it amusing.  It comes from Joseph Brodsky:

“The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.”

And just as proof that I didn’t make this up–here’s a real-life quotation of it in the New Yorker.

So how much actual Dostoevsky I might be getting is up for debate, but I’ll take what I can get.  Are you reading the same translation?  It might be fun to compare how the translations match up (and when I say it will be fun I mean “fun for reading dorks like twins who blog about what their reading” as opposed to “fun” fun.)

But it could also be fun to read the same translation (see caveat above).

Anyway we read it it will be fun, fun fun!  FUN!!!

…and that’s probably the last bright post we’ll see while reading this book.  The first chapter opens up mighty gloomy and if Patrick Dempsey’s sad eyes were a harbinger of things to come, this is going to be an examination of misery to last us hundreds and hundreds of pages .

I’m looking forward to it!

Barbecue Forever!

April 8, 2012

Am I the only one who kept forgetting that Long John Silver’s nickname earlier in the book was Barbecue. I had completely forgotten until late in the book when Merry made his power play to the usurp the title of Pirate Captain from Long John.

I don’t know about you, but about the only less awe-inspiring name for a pirate than Barbecue I could think of would probably be Merry. (Ahoy, matey’s it be Merry, the happiest, joy-lovin’ pirate on these seven seas. Give us yer money or we be making you smile until ye frown*!)

[*Is it just me or have I gotten really good at writing in pirate?]

So, I guess two things are not surprising:

1.) The pirate gang stuck with Barbecue.
2.) Barbecue goes by Long John Silver.

But I think my favorite part of the book came at the very convenient elision that occurred at the end of the book. I was finding a bit hard to believe that they were going to wrap everything up in 5 pages when they had hardly left the island and they still had a long voyage home ahead.

But then tricky, Robert Louis Stevenson played the ol’ “Well, to make a long story short…” Now, I am sure some people would feel a bit cheated of the further high seas adventures of Jim, Barbecue (sorry, you lose your pirate booty you go back to being Barbecue), the Squire, Captain Smollet and Doctor Livesey, but I on the other hand could only ask myself why this device wasn’t used more frequently. Such as:

  • I got into the coracle and, well, to make a long story short, I ended up in the pirate camp.


  • The Squire, Dr. Livesey, Captain Smollet, this quirky one-legged cook name “Long” Jon “Barbecue” Silver all boarded the boat, Hispaniola, and, well, to make a long story short got briefly stranded on a deserted island where we found some treasure and a few power struggles, and–whew!–made it back home. (Oh yeah, and Barbecue was a pirate!)

But those are just two suggestions. In any case, to make a long story short, I am finished with the book. Bring on your next choice. I feel like I’ve set the bar pretty low here, so no pressure on the pick.



I Am The Weakest Link, Goodbye!

March 18, 2012

Ever with my finger on the pulse of pop culture, I now know how the oafish lunk who fails to bank the money before inexplicably missing the next tartly worded, first grade-level question feels when meeting the glaring eyes of his fellow Weakest Link contestants. Only in this analogy banking is posting to the blog, and delivering the right answer is akin to finishing the book.

Perhaps this is a poor metaphor, but man, I just really miss Weakest Link.

In any case, what I am getting at is that I’ve been lax in my reading. I think you’ve hit the nail fairly on the head with this book. It’s not that it’s particularly bad, it’s just not terribly compelling. I find myself getting interested only to be inundated with “coracles,” “afts,” “starboards,” and “fo’c’sles” and somehow my interest wains. (Hard to believe, I mean up to now, I would have said that I was one of the world’s biggest fans of “fo’c’sles”…wait, maybe I am thinking of popsicles (in my head, these words are pronounced very similarly.) Which one is a ship’s forcastle and which is the frozen juice drink on a stick. Because I do not care frozen treats.)

But, I have a very few pages left and I will make it a priority to finish this up. C&P sounds downright intriguing. A little mystery, a little philosophical angst–who could ask for anything more?

For now, though, I remain the weakest link.




Off The Island

March 13, 2012

Well Twin I’ve made it safely back from Treasure Island…it’s a trip I don’t think I’ll be making again any time soon.

This book is odd…it’s not that it’s a bad book (but I should say that I truly didn’t like it very much), but I feel like throughout Stevenson made choices I disagree with in what he put focus on in the narrative.  For instance–we get something like thirty some pages on Jim in the coracle, but the treasure discovery happens outside of the narrative.  What the hell?  I mean, come on RLS what’s the point?

I did appreciate the “American Graffiti” like ending where Jim gives us a little precis about the future of all the major characters..if I didn’t find out what happened to Abraham Gray I would have been beside myself.  But I was a little surprised by Jim’s recounting of his own future, “Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that I ever have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! pieces of eight!”

This adventure was a trauma for young Jim?  In the past two hundred and ninety-one pages I got the impression that this was a rip-roaring adventure.  Instead we find that the book ends with Jim suffering the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  That’s not very cheery.  At least he has treasure.

I don’t think I’ll have nightmares, but I’m glad to be done.

Get finished Twinner.  I’m ready to start the next book…I’m thinking some Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I’m tired of this light fare…I want something meaty!


The Aria of Israel Hands

March 5, 2012


I, like you, failed in the “finishing the book” department.  Here I’ve been 32 for nearly 5 days and I’m still a bit away from the end…like Jim in the coracle looking at the Hispaniola…I can see it, but damned if I know how I’m going to get there.

I thought I’d check in anyway and share a part that I quite liked.  As a preface I’ll admit that I have trouble keeping all the boat crew straight, not since the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo books, with their panoply of nefarious Swedes, have I cared less about successfully identifying secondary and tertiary characters.  But I did appreciate this moment of distinction that Stevenson gave Long John Silver’s partner in crime, Israel Hands

“For thirty years,” he [Hands] said, “I’ve sailed the seas, and seen good and bad, better and worse, fair weather and foul, provisions running out, knives going, and what not. Well, now I tell you, I never seen good come from goodness yet.  Him as strikes first is my fancy; dead men don’t bite; them’s my views — amen, so be it. And now, you look here,” he added, suddenly changing his tone “we’ve had about enough of this foolery…”

I think it’s generous of Stevenson to give this random bad guy a moment to tell his side of the story.  Prior to this moment I couldn’t have told you Israel Hands from Abraham Gray…and now, now I CARE!  Looks like that pirate has had a hard life.  (And PS what falls under Hands’s “and what not”?  The story was just getting good!)

As I wind my way through the last portion of this book I find myself being revisited by the same question time and time again…”Is Jim Hawkins a genius or is everyone else on this trip just an idiot?”  Hawkins is a boy, right?  A little boy?  How in the name of Hades does he out trick every single last pirate…whether hiding in an apple barrel or fighting mano a mano (!!!) on a pirate ship?   I feel it’s beginning to strain the boundaries of credulity.

Well according to your last post you’re finished with this book now (you said end of the week!)…so you probably have some insightful closing thoughts.  I’m hoping to join you at the finish line soon!