"The House of the Dead" is an account of the prison years of Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov, told in the first person. Of course, one can almost read it as Dostoyevsky's account of his own incarceration: it certainly has a feel of authenticity in its level of detail.
For those who have read Solzhenitsyn's novels and "The Gulag Archipelago", much in "The House of the Dead" will be familiar - perhaps depressingly so in that little seems to have changed between the times the two writers were imprisoned. This is not to distract from the quality of Dostoyevsky's novel. The reader is presented with a series of impressions, sketches and reflections rather than a straightforward narrative. The central character, Goryanchikov, is not depicted in great detail. Rather, he acts as the cipher through which the other prisoners and prison life are related to the reader.
Goryanchikov describes lives and histories of the other prisoners, their treatment by the guards, living conditions and notable events. The squalor and brutality of prison life come over very strongly, as does the ability of humans to adapt to such treatment. For some, of course, prison life was infinitely preferable to their normal existence, which says a great deal about conditions in Tsarist Russia. Class, religious and national distinctions were maintained in prison: Goryanchikov is a nobleman, which creates problems for him regarding his fellow inmates.
In all, an interesting novel which succeeds in relating the horrendous conditions of prison life, the brutality of men and the will to survive.