I picked this up because I saw a reference to it in something I recently read (I can't remember if it was Northanger Abbey or Uncle Silas) and it sparked my curiousity: turns out it is just Russian moralizing set up as a story within a story.
The flow of the story and the "horrible" actions taken by Pechorin are (of course) outdated enough that I don't find him nearly as reprehensible as Lermontov means for me to find him. Instead, I think he is a cad and very irresponsible, but on the whole entertaining. I realize, this is a product of my time. If anything, I expected there to be a bit more scandal (along the lines of Dangerous Liasons...where is the sex in this novel? Really he only beds Vera, who is already an old lover).
However, I really loved several of his musings. Pechorin's struggles with his (slight) guilt over his quest for power and entertainment (really his biggest problem is boredom, something which is understandable in modern times) are very poignant. His thoughts on the pursuit of happiness and the struggle with apathy rival that of David Foster Wallace (without the 900 pages of Infinite Jest to illustrate). Two of my favorites are here and should speak for themselves:
"my chief pleasure is to make everything that surrounds me subject to my will. To arouse the feeling of love, devotion and awe towards oneself--is not that the first sign, the greatest triumph, of power? To be the cause of suffering and joy to another--without in the least possessing any definite right to be so--is not that the sweetest food for our pride? And what is happiness?--Satisfied pride."
"Out of the storm of life I have borne away only a few ideas--and not one feeling. For a long time now I have been living, not with my heart, but with my head. I weigh, analyse my own passions and actions with severe curiosity, but without sympathy. There are two personalities within me: one lives--in the complete sense of the word--the other reflects and judges him"
As an endnote, I did notice a problem with consistency; Pechorin (in his diary) says that he will never marry (or not until late in life) because he is afraid of a prophesy that his wicked wife would kill him. However, he marries Bela (in the first story we hear of him); she is not wicked, nor does she kill him.