This story put Fyodor Dostoevsky on the map and is one of his books that I have managed to miss. It is a classic case of seeing it gathering dust sitting on the self but never getting it down to have a closer look.
Once down and open it is a pleasant surprise. Mainly because instead of the usual introductory pages setting out the family tree of the main characters this gets stuck in. Through a correspondence between an aged clerk and a woman he has taken under his wing who lives near by the story unfolds.
The clerk is so poor he lives in a portioned section of a kitchen and the woman he writes too is not much better off having to rely on her friend’s kindness.
As they write to each other a story of misery and missed opportunities emerges. He has become the butt of jokes in his office and because of his appearance and pathetic acceptance of the very lowest that life can give he has accepted a life of compromise.
She has been destroyed by the death of her parents and her tutor exposing the fragility of the situation the poor are trapped in. Dreams of escape are shattered by ill health, which of course is always lurking for those unable to clothe and feed themselves properly.
You suspect even the friendship between the clerk and the woman could come undone for that reason…