Notes from Underground is a volcanic book. That’s the only adjective I can think of that captures the visceral, unrelenting, and furious nature of Dostoevsky’s prose. Dostoevsky is the only author I know who could scream in print, which is part of what makes this book so important both for me personally and in the history of literature.
From the moment I opened this novel, I knew it was different from anything else I’d read. This was the first time I didn’t feel like the narrator was talking to me in the sense of a general audience. No, he was talking to me, Matt. More than that, he was challenging me and anticipating my reactions. Most of the time, he was right, which made reading this already strange book feel uncanny, even unnerving.
Why is this book so important? The reason is simple – it’s one of those rare novels that demonstrates what honest writing can do. Dostoevsky is engaging in an argument with you, with his society, and with the entire world. At the same time, he creates a compelling narrator who is still infamous today despite not having a name and being, in his own words, “sick” and “spiteful.” (Trust me, you’ll still love him…or hate him, but definitely one or the other)
This book is a maze without a beginning or end, the literary equivalent of an Escher painting, a paradox, and an examination of a twisted mind that is damaged yet incredibly insightful.
There are a lot of great books out there you could read that will make you smarter. But it’s not often you’ll find a book smarter than you.
So go read it. Now.