Book Review: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

So, the narrator of this book is utterly unhinged.


So, the narrator of this book is utterly unhinged.

About the Book

Title: Notes from Underground

Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Published: 1864

Series: (standalone)

Genre: classics, fiction, novellas, philosophy

My Rating: 5/5 stars

The Premise

Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):

“Dostoevsky’s most revolutionary novel, Notes from Underground marks the dividing line between nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, and between the visions of self each century embodied. One of the most remarkable characters in literature, the unnamed narrator is a former official who has defiantly withdrawn into an underground existence. In complete retreat from society, he scrawls a passionate, obsessive, self-contradictory narrative that serves as a devastating attack on social utopianism and an assertion of man’s essentially irrational nature.

My Thoughts

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”

As I said at the beginning of this review: the unnamed narrator of Notes from Underground is utterly unhinged. He’s self-important, insufferable, misanthropic, obnoxious, rude, pathetic and downright cringeworthy— and yet, on some level, I related to him.

I related to his capriciousness, his social awkwardness, his anxiety, his ostracism and subsequent disdain for his peers, his stubbornness, his confusion about even his own behavior, his moodiness, his disillusionment with the world, his simultaneous overconfidence and self-hatred, and the desire to just isolate yourself from everything because nothing and no one really makes sense and people aren’t worth all the trouble.

Notes from Underground is framed as a diary of this unnamed man who has isolated himself from society and has decided to write this highly unbalanced rant about how much he hates everything and how humans are annoying and unpredictable, all while exposing how annoying and unpredictable he is himself, and waxing poetic about philosophy.

He wants the world to follow his will even when he doesn’t even know what he wants. He wants friends and acceptance even while acting like a total prick just for the hell of it. He thinks people hate him because he’s so much smarter and better than everyone else even while he knows how pitiful and pretentious he is. He has grandiose fantasies yet can’t summon the confidence to look people in the eye. He goes on insane rants to random girls just to have someone listen, then wishes he never opened his mouth. In moments when he realizes how miserable he’s made himself, he romanticizes his own suffering just to have some poetic excuse for his sad life. He writes this diatribe for no one to read, just to satisfy his sensibilities.

He’s an extremely unlikable character, yet I wouldn’t believe you if you said you couldn’t see some of him in yourself– and that’s what was so good about the book.

Like the Underground Man, humanity is petty and selfish and, above all, irrational. After all, what would we be without this basic characteristic?

Even if man were nothing but a piano key, even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of sheer ingratitude, simply to have his own way…then, after all, perhaps only by his curse will he attain his object, that is, really convince himself that he is a man and not a piano key! If you say that all this, too, can be calculated and tabulated…then man would purposely go mad in order to be rid of reason and have this own way.

The Verdict

This was the very first Dostoevsky novel I read (now I can call myself a sophisticated, official reader, right?) and I really liked it. So I would recommend it.

I’d also recommend this person’s review I found that explains the philosophical aspect of the book really well.

Have you read Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground? If so, what did you think of it? Feel free to leave a comment!

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8 comments on “Book Review: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky”

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