And that was when the doorbell rang. This was unusual, as random events rarely occurred in the mostly predetermined BookWorld. I opened the door to find three Dostoyevskivites staring at me from within a dense cloud of moral relativism.
‘May we come in?’ asked the first, who had the look of someone weighed down heavily with the burden of conscience. ‘We were on our way home from a redemption-through-suffering training course. Something big’s going down at Text Grand Central and everyone’s been grounded until further notice.’
A grounding was rare, but not unheard of. In an emergency, all citizens of the BookWorld were expected to offer hospitality to those stranded outside their books. I might have minded, but these guys were from Crime and Punishment and, better still, celebrities. We hadn’t seen a celebrity this end of Fantasy since Pamela from Pamela stopped outside with a flat tyre. She could have been gone in an hour, but insisted on using an epistolary breakdown service, and we had to put her up in the spare room while a complex series of letters went backwards and forwards.
‘Welcome to my home, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.’
‘Oh!’ said Raskolnikov, impressed that I knew who he was. ‘How did you know it was me? Could it have been the subtle way in which I project the dubious moral notion that murder might somehow be rationalised, or the way in which I move from denying my guilt to eventually coming to terms with an absoluite sense of justice and submitting myself to the rule of law?’
‘Neither,’ I said. ‘It’s because you’re holding an axe covered in blood and human hair.’
‘Yes, it is a bit of a giveaway,’ he admitted, staring at the axe, ‘but how rude am I? Allow me to introduce Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigaïlov.’
‘Actually,’ said the second man, leaning over to shake my hand, ‘I’m Dmitri Prokofich Razumikhin, Raskolnikov’s loyal friend.’
‘You are?’ said Raskolnikov in surprise. ‘Then what happened to Svidrigaïlov?’
‘He’s busy chatting up your sister.’
He narrowed his eyes.
‘My sister? That’s Pulkheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikova, right?’
‘No,’ said Razumikhin in the tone of a long-suffering best friend, ‘that’s your mother. Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova is your sister.’
‘I always get those two mixed up. So who’s Marfa Petrovna Svidrigaïlova?’
Razumikhin frowned and thought for a moment.
‘You’ve got me there.’
He turned to the third Russian.
‘Tell me, Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin: who, precisely, is Marfa Petrovna Svidrigaïlova?’
‘I’m sorry,’ said the third Russian, who had been staring at her shoes absently, ‘but I think there has been some kind of mistake. I’m not Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, but Alyona Ivanovna.’
Razumikhin turned to Raskolnikov and lowered his voice.
‘Is that your landlady’s servant, the one who decides to marry down to secure her future or the one who turns to prostitution in order to stop her family descending into penury?’
‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I’ve been in this book for over a hundred and thirty years, and even I can’t figure it out.’
‘It’s very simple,’ said the third Russian, indicating who did what on her fingers, ‘Nastasya Petrovna is Raskolnikov’s landlady’s servant, Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova is your sister who threatens to marry down, Sofia Semyonovna Marmeladova is the one who becomes a prostitute, and Marfa Petrovna Svidrigaïlova – the one you were first asking about – is Arkady Svidrigaïlov’s murdered first wife.’
‘I knew that,’ said Raskolnikov in the manner of someone who didn’t, ‘so … who are you again?’
‘I’m Alyona Ivanovna,’ said the third Russian with a trace of annoyance, ‘the rapacious old pawnbroker whose apparent greed and wealth lead you to murder.’
‘Are you sure you’re Ivanovna?’ asked Raskolnikov in a worried tone.
‘And you’re still alive?’
‘So it seems.’
He stared at the bloody axe.
‘Then who did I just kill?’
And they all looked at each other in confusion.
Da: Jasper Fforde, One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, Hodder & Stoughton, London 2011. 388 pagine.