Sunday, 29 March 2009

Notes from the Underground

For our first Friday night meeting, Karen's choice was Dostoevsky's short novel 'Notes from the Underground'. Apologising for her second choice (after ditching 'Don Quixote') Karen led the discussion off.

In the first third of the novel Dostoevsky's introduces his anti-hero, "I'm a sick man... I'm a malicious man. An unattractive man, I am". No-one disagreed with this statement (and many thought it was tough going and had to skim read the first portion of the book).

The main character is a (very) petite-bourgeoisie official, educated but poorly paid; constantly thinking about himself and his actions, withdrawn and socially inept. The group thought that maybe he was too much of a thinker: "the direct, legitimate, immediate fruit of consciousness is inertia". Anne and Karen thought he was more like someone suffering from mental illness and there was some discussion whether this was Dostoevsky's state of mind at the time the book was written...

Yet the character's ramblings reflected many of the issues of the time. Was he a man or an organ stop? Was he a mere functional creation? Did he have freewill? Were the laws of physics and maths set in stone? Two twos is always four, but it would be nice if two twos were five! Morag and I thought that if Dostoevsky's hadn't based the character on himself, then it was a very accomplished portrayal, setting the scene for the later vignette 'Apropos of the Sleet'.

This second part of the book relates to the dinner-party with his old "friends" (but of course he has no true friends, as he cannot act with spontaneity and without self doubt or paranoia) and what happens when they leave him behind and he goes to a brothel. There are passages of black humour, especially when he believes he has been slighted and cannot bring himself to reply, but paces the room for hours whilst ignored by the other guests. I'll leave the ending a mystery, but he acts dreadfully to type in the final pages and I was speechless with him! Nearly all the group read this part and enjoyed it. As an aside James Joyce said Dostoevsky was the writer who "created modern prose, and intensified it to its present day pitch"...

Finally there was a discussion centered on who could play such a tortured soul on film: a gaunt Hugh Laurie was my vote, a manic Johnny Depp was popular and Christian Bale also received votes from our two newest members.

These are the events of the book group that cold night, yet you may think otherwise. There are those of you that experienced it for what it was and thought nothing more. Yet there maybe others amongst you will think more deeply, belittle my write up and join me in thinking it despicably self-satisfying...
:) Notes from the laptop