I am a sick man…
The first few sentences of Dostoevsky’s Notes From the Underground are sentences that etch themselves in your brain the first time you read them, so memorable and strange are they. Even though this sort of protagonist and novel has become more commonplace–even archetypal–the unnamed protagonist of Notes is the first, and one of the most memorable.
It is narrated by an ex-civil servant, a bitter man suffering from liver pain and toothaches living in St. Petersburg, railing against St. Petersburg, Western philosophy, and everything else, his hatred flowing from him like bile. The first part of the book is an outline of his philosophy, the second a series of episodes that show his views in action.
It’s not a book where very much happens, so if that’s what you’re looking for you may not enjoy it. But if you’re in the mood for a small and intense psychological exploration, then this is it. Considering how that the man’s personality is so very, very different from Dostoevsky’s own, it’s an incredible achievement to have him drop into the pages so fully formed, so vile and so persuasive, so dislikeable but so pitiable at the same time.