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The Double and The Gambler

Narrated by: Michael Page
Length: 12 hrs and 52 mins
Categories: Classics, World Literature
4.5 out of 5 stars (12 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The Double, written in Dostoevsky's youth, was a sharp turn away from the realism of his first novel, Poor Folk. The first real expression of his genius, The Double is a surprisingly modern hallucinatory nightmare in which a minor official named Goliadkin becomes aware of a mysterious doppelgänger - a man who has his name and his face and who gradually and relentlessly begins to displace him with his friends and colleagues. In the dilemma of this increasingly paranoid hero, Dostoevsky makes vividly concrete the inner disintegration of consciousness that would become a major theme of his work.

The Gambler was written 20 years later, under the pressure of crushing debt. It is a stunning psychological portrait of a young man's exhilarating and destructive addiction, a compulsion that Dostoevsky - who once gambled away his young wife's wedding ring - knew intimately from his own experience. In the disastrous love affairs and gambling adventures of his character, Alexei Ivanovich, Dostoevsky explores the irresistible temptation to look into the abyss of ultimate risk that he believed was an essential part of the Russian national character.

The two strikingly original short novels brought together here - in new translations by award-winning translators - were both literary gambles of a sort for Dostoevsky.

©2005 Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (P)2019 Tantor

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Exciting

Michael Page does a wonderful job with these paired novels by Dostoevsky: the dialogue is especially well done, ranging from the supercilious tones of the winners in life to the increasing desperation of its losers.

In The Double, the petty bureaucrat Goliadkin finds himself in an unusual situation: someone who looks exactly like him, and who is also named Goliadkin, has been hired by the same office. Goliadkin at first befriends the newcomer, but soon finds him to be a serious rival. Trying to compete with this rival — in fact, even just trying to understand who or what he is — leads to a long descent into madness.

Or was he mad all along? Like many of Dostoevsky’s heroes, he is morbidly self-conscious, torturing himself (and sometimes the reader) by second-guessing his every move, including his own second-guessing. Some people find Dostoevsky’s characters enlighteningly existential; I find them clinical and claustrophobic.

But there is no denying the power of Dostoevsky's prose. His description of Goliadkin’s thinking overflows all boundaries, giving a totally convincing impression of madness without ever really becoming incoherent. The frantic hysteria in Page’s voice matches this flood of impressions beautifully.

The audiobook leaves Goliadkin behind and plunges immediately into the next novella, The Gambler. (In fact “plunging” is an appropriate description: there is no transition between one story and the next. It goes something like this: “....he [Goliadkin] had long foreseen it, The Gambler, a novel, from a young man’s notes....” This is a common problem. I do wish audiobook producers would take the trouble to build in longer pauses between stories: 3 or 4 seconds at a minimum. Otherwise the impact of closing words is drained by the sudden shift into a new narrative.)

But the bungled transition is over in seconds, and rest of the novel is a masterpiece. The term “totally convincing” applies here as well: in this case, it involves a painful and closely observed portrait of gambling addiction. Apparently it was based on Dostoevsky’s own bitter experience. The narrator tells his own story, and like most of Dostoevsky's main characters, he's a lost man. It just takes him most of the novel to realize it.

Dostoevsky wrote the story in an apartment in Florence. I had the opportunity once to stand in front of the building, which is on a quiet street and marked with a plaque. When I think about it now, I'll be thinking about it with Michael Page’s passionate reading echoing through my head.

LATER UPDATE: memory plays tricks sometimes. The novel Dostoevsky was writing while he was living in Florence was not The Gambler; it was The Idiot. The plaque on the house in Italy leaves no question about this: here Dostoevsky “compí il romanzo L’Idiota,” it says. The Idiot is a good novel too, but it’s not this one.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful