Cover of The Idiot, featuring a drawing of a young man

About the Book

Title: The Idiot
Published: 1868

Cover Story: Waiting for the Movie Tie-In
Drinking Buddy:
Твоё здоровье!
MPAA Rating:
PG (pretty goofy): cartoonlike violence
Talky Talk:
Beach Read
Bonus Factors:
Seizures, Russia
Bromance Status:
Workers of the World, Laugh!

Cover Story:  Waiting for the Movie Tie-In

Like most older books, we have a zillion covers to choose from, most of which have some sort of portrait of the title character. I’m just waiting for Hollywood to get a hold of this plot and we’ll get the movie tie-in cover with Jim Carrey or Martin Lawrence mugging for the audience.

The Deal:

It’s the mid 1800s in Tsarist Russia. Lev ‘The Prince’ Myshkin shows up in Petersburg after recuperating from an illness in Switzerland. Goofy and naive, Myshkin wreaks havoc on Russian society, offending, frightening, and ultimately charming members of both the bourgeoisie and proletariat alike. Don’t drink any hot beverages when Myskin barges into a party, trust me!

Drinking Buddy: Твоё здоровье!

Two pints of beer cheersing

Myshkin immediately falls in with a crowd of Bolsheschmucks that will make you Red…with laughter. There’s Rogózhin, his scheming rival; Ippolít, the hypochondriac who’s always threatening to fall over dead; Lébedyev and Gánya, the incompetent social climbers, General Ívolgin, the comical drunk; and Keller, of the ‘punch first and ask questions later’ school. With these zany tsarists on the loose, the October Revolution can’t come soon enough!

MPAA Rating: PG (pretty goofy): cartoonlike violence

So Myshkin, without even trying, finds himself an object of interest of both the wealthy and beautiful Agláya and the scheming but alluring Nastasya. How can a man who’s probably never kissed a girl choose between two such lovelies? Or will he even survive their attempts to win his affections? Meanwhile, Myshkin bumbles through life, as people try to shake him down for money, social status, or just his friendship. Fasten your seat belts, we’re on a crash course with wackiness!

Talky Talk: Beach Read

Obviously, the lighthearted subject matter makes this book a breeze to read, despite the 600+ pages. You’ll howl when Ippolít tries to commit suicide with an unloaded revolver and wince when Myshkin finds himself challenged to a duel by a complete stranger. Then there’s Lébedyev, who rants about his wallet being stolen, only to realize he left it in the wrong pants. And General Ivolgin’s rambling stories about serving as Napoleon’s aide de camp when he was a boy (sure you did, General). And of course, there’s the slapstick scene with Agláya’s mother’s precious Chinese vase; I think you can see where that scene is going. But when it all comes down to it, Myshkin is just a darn likeable guy that even his rivals respect. Just don’t get him talking about donkeys, goodness!

Bonus Factor: Seizures

An arrow pointing to a human brain

The sad fact is, the illness that Myshkin was being treated for was epilepsy. At the time, this was considered a mental defect, and the author takes a lot of opportunities to make sport of a misunderstood condition or use it to get our hero out of a jam. Sure, a seizure was a convenient way to save Myshkin from a murderous attack by Rogózhin, but the humor didn’t age well. The jokes about Ippolít’s consumption, however, were pure comedy gold.

Bonus Factor: Russia

Homer Simpson in Russian attire

We’re all familiar with the great Russian comedy writers: Tolstoy, Pasternak, Chekhov, and even Zamyatin, but Dostoyevsky blows them all away. What a country!

Bromance Status: Workers of the World, Laugh!

I’ll be ‘Putin’ this one on my must read list. Be sure and include it on your Five Year Plan as well. This was was harder to put down than Rasputin. (Too soon?)

Literary Matchmaking

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings #1)

Mackenzi Lee’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue contains another epileptic character.

The Silent Deal (The Card Game #1)

The Wise and the Wicked, by Rebecca Podos, is about some less-funny Russians.

Der Struwwelpeter

Der Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffman, another hilarious classic.

KGB FTC full disclosure: I received nothing from the author because he was a compulsive gambler and never had any money.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.