terça-feira, abril 15, 2003

Hysterical Melodrama: "The Idiot" by by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Constance Garnett (Translator), Alan Myers (Translator), Joseph Frank (Introduction), Anna Brailovsky (Translator)



I'd like to suggest that reading choice, at all ages, resembles a vortex. One's favourite books and authors swirl round, and are re-read (I've always been a great re-reader). New books are sucked in to join the vortex, and some of the favourites gradually sink down, just occasionally bobbing back up, possibly to be re-read for the sake of nostalgia. The core of the reading remains books I've enjoyed, or authors I've enjoyed, or books recommended as being not dissimilar to those I've enjoyed, but actual content of the core changes over time, as new interests or authors join in the swirl, often inspired by wanting to read more widely on topics raised by the old favourites. For me that would be Shakespeare. I re-read The Idiot for the first time recently and formed a new and rather confused opinion of the book and the Prince. The tremendous passages and themes - mortality, redemption - had a much greater impact on me this time around. At the same time, the more hysterically written sections had a greater impact too. My brain started to develop a tic from all the exclamation marks and superfluous ellipses and melodramatic plot twists. The big surprise came with the dénouement. After having first read it, I'd been catching up on my Shakespeare. When I got to the grand finale of "The Idiot" this time, I realised: 'It's bloody Othello.' The end of Othello is always heart-searing. It makes my eyes fill every time. It is truly dramatic. By comparison, the end of "The Idiot" now seems hysterically melodramatic and has no emotional effect on me at all. Unless wanting to take Prince Myshkin by the shoulders to give him a damned good shaking counts as emotional effect.

All to the good, of course. Every time we re-read one book, we're newly informed by the hundreds of other books we've read in the meantime. So I already look forward to re-rereading "The Idiot" to see what I make of it next time.