Pass notes No 2,801: Dostoevsky Murals of the Russian author in a Moscow metro station have been called ‘depressing’ and ‘inappropriate’

Age: 188, but dead.

Appearance: Bearded, depressed, decomposed.

He’s absolutely, definitely, positively my favourite Russian writer. I loved War and Peace. And that film with Omar Sharif and the sleigh. You’ve never read anything by him, have you?

I might have. But refresh my memory. He created two of the great 19th-century novels: Crime and Punishment, in which a student murders two old women with an axe, and The Brothers Karamazov, in which a son bumps off his dad with a paperweight. His themes were madness, sin, redemption through Christ, prostitution, madness, sin, the importance of knowing your place, suicide, madness, sin and the love of a good woman. And madness. And sin.

Sounds a tad downbeat, even for a Russian. Some say Dostoevsky never recovered from his mock execution after he upset the Tsarist authorities, or his years in a Siberian prison camp. It can’t have helped that his father was a violent alcoholic who was murdered by his serfs, that his mother died of TB, and that he had epilepsy. He was a compulsive gambler, too.

All this is absolutely fascinating . . . But why are we talking about some foreign stiff when there’s sport on the telly? He’s a bad influence, apparently.

Worse than Lady Gaga? The Russians are worried he’ll encourage suicides on the Moscow underground. The new Dostoevsky metro station features scenes from his works, including the axe murders, and a portrait of the author. Critics describe it as “gloomy”, “depressing” and “totally inappropriate”.

Didn’t one of his heroines throw herself in front of a train? That was Tolstoy. Dostoevsky’s characters tend to end it all with guns or ropes. Experts are worried that Ivan Nikolaev’s murals give the station a “negative energy”. About 80 people kill themselves on the Moscow metro every year.

Does Nikolaev have any sympathy? He’s an artist, you dummy. “What did you want?” he says. “Scenes of dancing?”

Do quote: “We are all happy, if we only knew it.”

Don’t quote: “Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.”

Tuesday 22 June 2010 20.00

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