bookbug book club!
I've been wanting to join a book club-y sort of thing for the longest time, and also, coincidently, have been meaning to read this book, Crime & Punishment for the longest time, so it seems like this was a great opportunity! Thank you so much, Maple and Vashti for setting this up!
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2018) | ★★★★★
preliminary info / discussion
I already read this and kinda voted for it without thinking, but, at the same time, I also absolutely loved this book and, if I could, would shout from the rooftops and beg everyone else to read it as well, so it's fine. I have my original review posted here if you wanted to look at it, but I'll reread it and write some of my other thoughts here afterward. ^^
After rereading, I don't really have anything else to say that I didn't already mention in my original review. I did make some notes as I was reading, but they were pretty much all just me further relating to Keiko...
One thing that I've noticed from fellow Book Bug members and some other reviews I've seen is people being upset or confused why this book is often described as "funny." I think that's coming from a misunderstanding, though -- I don't think they're, like, laughing at Keiko or anything, I think they're just appreciating Murata's blunt sense of humor. Like, when she refers to Shiraha as her pet, or hitting a kid with a shovel to shut him up, or even the part towards the beginning where she wonders where the customers are coming from, because the convenience store is in the middle of a business district but the people seem like normal residents, so she imagines them living in the earth like cicadas. I don't really think there's a better word in English to describe that sort of thing besides "funny" or maybe "quirky"?
On that note, I started reading another book by Murata, Earthlings. I'm only a little over a third of the way through it so far, but I realized that the end of the month was quickly approaching, so might as well write this now, eh? Anyway, Earthlings seems to deal with a lot of similar themes as Convenience Store Woman, like, rather than talking about the Stone Age, the main character (Natsuki) worries about becoming a "tool" for the good of society, either by becoming a worker or a "baby-making factory." The major difference so far, at least, is that Earthlings is quite a bit... darker and more viscerally uncomfortable to read, honestly (namely, due to extreme depictions of child abuse), but the bizarre, surreal vibes are still very much here, or even put into overdrive. Like, whereas Keiko bases her entire life around the convenience store, Natsuki's coping mechanisms for dealing with her abuse are framed as her "magical powers" and she pretends to be a magical girl / alien / etc (and, apparently, it just gets so much crazier as you go on!). But, I'm gonna stop here before I make a fool of myself, talking about a book I'm not even halfway through yet...
Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1867) | ★★★★★
preliminary info / discussion
(I'm reading the 2003 Penguin Classics edition, translated into English by David McDuff, by the way.)
In the Russian lit class I took in college, we talked a lot about Russian history and the cultural context of the pieces we read and I think it really added a lot to my reading experience more than any other lit classes I've taken! So, I wanted to start with that here. ^^
The introduction to this edition says C&P was written as an extension of Notes from Underground; it's very easy to see the parallels there, but, namely, both are about nihilistic, disillusioned and quite frankly pathetic men, and they were written specifically in response to Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What is to Be Done?, which was itself written in response to Turgenev's Fathers & Sons. (I absolutely loved Fathers & Sons, by the way, and I've kinda made it into a life goal to read every book inspired by it! I haven't actually gotten around to reading What is to Be Done? yet, but it's apparently a socialist / feminist utopian novel -- needless to say, I'm very curious!)
Anyway, our boy Dosto's whole thing is basically that he was an extremely religious man, who was, by nature, an atheist. As Orlando Figes says in his 2002 book, Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia:Here was the fundamental question which Dostoevsky posed, not just in [Brothers Karamazov], but in all his life and art: How could one believe in God when the world created by him was so full of suffering? It was a question he was bound to ask when he looked at the society in which he lived. How could God have made Russia? (328)
Dostoevsky was deeply against both the nihilism and the utopian thinking that captivated the educated youth at the time, mostly because he himself was an idealistic socialist when he was younger. He had fallen into a certain friend group, and, through them, came into possession of a forbidden letter criticizing the government and whole of Russian society -- and so, in 1849, he was sentenced to death, but at the last minute, he was spared and sent to a labor camp in Siberia, instead. There, his previous idealism, believing in the inherent kindness and goodness of everyone, was completely destroyed: he was surrounded by the absolute worst of the worst criminals, who didn't even show the slightest bit of remorse for their crimes. To try to cope with this harsh reality, he had to spin a new narrative:he saw this barbarism as the 'filth' of centuries of oppression concealing, like a 'diamond', the peasant's Christian soul. (Figes 331)
It seems that this is a major theme in Crime & Punishment, but I haven't finished reading it yet, so I'll hold off here.
12/09 to 12/10/23: finished part one
I don't really have any valuable commentary to give at the present, so I guess I'll just leave a couple of tiny notes:
- the only other Dosto I've read is Notes from Underground, which is… a very different style than this book. I quite like Dosto's prose, though -- really paints a picture of the scene in your head! a horrible depressing picture, but a picture, nonetheless.
- I really wasn't expecting Rodya to be such a bleeding heart! I was expecting him to be a proper Nihilist à la Bazarov from Fathers & Sons (ie: casually misogynistic), but he actually had a lot of sympathy for women (which teetered in and out with his growing Nihilism…).
- on that note, I feel so bad for his mom and sister. in ruining his own life, he's also ruined theirs and everything they've sacrificed for him…
12/30/23: ...final thoughts
Oops, sorry, I kinda put off reading until the end of the month and only just now finished!
This really was quite a ride of a novel! Dosto really knows how to pull at the heartstrings, huh? It was somehow funny and heartwarming and devastating and uncomfortably relatable and completely unhinged all at the same time.
Some little comments:
- Every interaction Rodya has with the police is absolutely insane, omg. Being a weeb, all I could think of were Ace Attorney-style breakdowns and Light / L's overlapping monologues.
- There were several comments that you really have to stop and chew on for a while... All of the little rants were also fun, especially when Razumikhin was drunk and talking about the importance of nonsense. A lot of overlapping ideas with Notes from Underground, but also a lot of new ones.
- Lots of dunking on socialists, in a very soyjack-strawman kinda way. The popular socialist ideas at the time really were crazy, though! I wrote a paper in that Russian Lit class about the whole "mathematical" revolution and how they wanted to "shape people like clay" and "treat them like a piano key," actually. Genuinely, researching for that freaked me the hell out... On that note, I'd also really recommend Zamyatin's We (1924) about a similar "mathematical" socialist Utopian-Dystopia.
- Proto-cancel culture and callouts, lol. (Or rather, it's just always existed and people are just like this...)
- On that note, loved the scene where Dunya basically told Luzhin to fuck himself! She's so cool <3
- Razumikhin's such a little ray of sunshine, isn't he?
In regards to major themes: this is something that I've noticed in a lot of Russian novels, but, above all else, there's so much warmth and tenderness and love here! No matter how much Rodya wants to isolate himself, no matter how much he lashes out at them, no matter his crimes, his friends and family still want to help him and stay by his side. Not to mention how they're planning their lives out together, both before and after Rodya turns himself in... Like, as an also twenty-three year old shut-in, the whole theme of making connections with others just really got to me.
Also, some cultural context: the bit at the end with Sonya following Rodya to Siberia is a reference to the Decemberist wives. The Decemberists were a bunch of noblemen who previously served in the military alongside peasants during the 1812 Napoleonic invasion and, in doing so, were first properly acquainted with Russian culture. Prior to this, Russian nobles excessively overidolized France to the point of barely even speaking Russian and didn't really see peasants as actually being people, but, afterwords, they began to identify themselves with the Russian peasants and Russia itself (Figes 75-6). This eventually led to the December Revolt in 1825, where these noblemen sympathetic to the plight of peasants tried to overthrow the government. And failed horribly and they were all arrested, some executed and some sent to Siberia (89). In some cases, the condemned's wives decided to follow their husbands and suffer with them, most notably Maria Volkonskaya who along with her husband were basically worshipped by later progressives for their sacrifice to the cause. When Dosto himself was sentenced to Siberia in 1850, he met with the Decemberist wives and was given a copy of the New Testament, which was the only book allowed in prison and he slept with it under his pillow and treasured it (335). I was wondering if he was going to mention that with Rodya in prison, and he finally did on the very last page of the epilogue. You can also see the idolization of suffering throughout the novel.
Besides that, I already talked about how Dosto's an atheist who desperately wanted to believe in God-thing in the intro, but this quote after Marmeladov's death really got me:
"And what am I supposed to do with these?" she said, interrupting him sharply and irritably, pointing at her urchins.
"God is merciful; trust in the help of the Almighty," the priest began.
"Oh, go away. Merciful He may be, but not to us He is!"
"It's a sin, a sin, to say such things, dear lady," the priest said, shaking his head.
"And what about that -- isn't that a sin?" Katerina Ivanovna shouted, pointing to the dying man. (221)
Later, it isn't "God" who comes to save their family like the priest insists, but rather Rodya who acts automatically out of the decency in his heart after seeing a man he got to know by chance injured. And then, despite the fact that he's an atheist, Rodya asks several people to keep him in their prayers, just so he is reassured that people love him and care about him... What's good in life, what makes life worth living is human connection and friendship...
Ah, this really was such a good book! Excited to hear what other people thought of it!! ^^