Customer Reviews: The Double and The Gambler (Vintage Classics)
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on July 18, 2007
These two short novels by Dostoevsky, are a change of pace fot the writer. "The Double" was written when the author was young and was sort of a "riff" on Gogol-style absurdity. Mr. Golyadkin goes to work one day and finds a man with the same name who looks just like hiim doing his job. What's worse is that the other man is more popular with the coworkers than he ever was. It is a darkly comic story who's main character is a vague, early take on Dostoevsky's Underground Man/Raskolnikov character.

"The Gambler" was written for money and in a hurry. He was trying to finish "Crime and Punishment" but needed to publish a book FAST so he dictated this short book to a secretary (whom he later married). It's about the foolishness of the gambling community at Baden-Baden in Germany. All of Dostoevsky's Gemran stereotypes are on display so take those for what they're worth. The great fun of this book is the pace; the dictated novel zips along faster than most 19th century novels ever do. It's as close to a Summer read as Dostoevsky ever got.

Five stars might be a little high for such trifles that are so out of character for Dostoevsky but the writing is top notch, much better than reading "The Adolescent" or "Insulted and Injured." The translation is tight and the stories are really a lot of fun. The translations by Jessie Coulson (published by Penguin, I think) are also very good.
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on January 30, 2006
The perfect little companion piece to two of Dostevsky's several short stories, and two of his best if not THE best might I add.

I have read both these stories before but translated by different authors in the Great Short Works compilation by Perennial classics. Before I go on to mention about the Peaver/Volkhonsky translations which are superior I will talk briefly about both stories, not so much what they are about (you can find many of those around here) but of the translations themselves.

The Double is quite a fascinating short story, but for a lot of people it doesn't have closure, and the ending gives the impression of cheating the reader. I first read the George Bird translation which is actually okay compared to this one, but nowhere near as colourful. You will really get a kick of Mr. Golyadkin's play into madness, it is quite a wild ride.

The Gambler is truly one of those books that litteraly makes your skin crawl. Also Peaver/Volokhonsky's translation compared to Constance Garnett is FAR superior full of life and what I call Dostoevsky "flow" where as Garentt's comes off as 'flat'. The Gambler isn't just a well written story but also gives a glimpse into a time period that doesn't exist any more, (his comments about Frenchmen, Englishmen, Germans and Poles is quite insane) and a depth into the soul of the tortured novelist who suffered the afflictions of the main character. You will also get a serious kick out of the high wheeling grandmother (baboushka) in this book, she is one of the most memorable characters in any story EVER.

Both these stories are great page turners you wont be able to stop until you are done.

More importantly, the Everyman book looks great on my book shelf as always. And this is just the perfect thing highlighting two of his great short stories. The only one I can think that were better than these two is "A Nasty Anecdote" (sometimes translated as "A disgraceful affair").

As for a Dostoevsky work and how it is presented in this companion, it is a sure 5 star winner!
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on March 1, 2010
Though largely famous for long novels, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote a number of notable novellas, of which The Double is an early example and The Gambler is last. This collection includes both in new translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the Russian to English translators now most in vogue, as well as an insightful Introduction. This is not only convenient but an excellent value. The stories are not on par with longer works, but fans of those revered pieces will like them, as they have much of the greatness on a small scale. Also, along with Notes from Underground, they are a good place to start for those curious about Dostoevsky but intimidated by his thick masterpieces.

Though an early work and not as well-crafted as The Gambler, The Double is an interesting story that manages to put a new spin on the doppelganger phenomenon. In it, Dostoevsky very skillfully portrays one man's lonely descent into madness - and manages to be screamingly funny while doing so. This is certainly no major work, but some of the themes - namely madness - were worked out in more detail later, and the uncharacteristic humor may appeal those not keen on Dostoevsky's famous dark side.

The Gambler is quite different and better overall; fans and scholars will have a proverbial field day comparing the stories and why they were put together, but it works quite well on its own. Dostoevsky is world renowned for psychological insight, and The Gambler is a consummate example. The first-person narrative gives a fascinating peek into a gambling addict's mind; we learn much about what causes such behavior and, more importantly, what perpetuates it, often against better judgment. A large part of Dostoevsky's greatness is that his character studies have great verisimilitude no matter what the subject, but something extra here makes it even more piercing. This is doubtless to a great extent because it has the kind of realism that only experience can bring; Dostoevsky certainly knew a lot about gambling addicts, being one himself. In fact, the story was written at near-superhuman speed to pay off gambling debts - a process so legendary that it was even made into a film. Many gambling addicts have said this is the most realistic and compelling portrayal that exists, and it certainly brings their world vividly to life. However, there is also more to it. Gambling may be the focus, but the insight holds for all addiction forms and, by extension, all types of self-destructive behavior. This last is a particular Dostoevsky specialty, especially in regard to the Russian character, which all of his work in a sense tried to define and analyze. Here he zeroes in on its self-abnegating impulse as symbolized by Alexei's passionate love. Many lovers in literature and reality have claimed they would do anything for their beloved, but few have gone to such literal extremes. This and the gambling show him on the verge not only of self-destruction but of madness, which may make him seem too extreme to be identifiable even as his actions lead to much of Dostoevsky's characteristic black humor. However, the fact that he loses love, wealth, and thus happiness because of an inability to overcome his dark forces makes him a truly tragic figure - widely sympathetic and unfortunately widely relatable. It also unflinchingly shows the futility Dostoevsky saw as central to the Russian character; as an English character unforgettably says to Alexei at the end, "your life is now over. I am not blaming you for this--in my view all Russians resemble you, or are inclined to do so. If it is not roulette, then it is something else. The exceptions are very rare." This shows a very dark view of humanity, particularly Russians - all the more so in that, unlike some of Dostoevsky's more famous works, there is no hint of spiritual redemption at the end. Some may cringe, but the realism and perspicuity ensure we cannot ignore the very important point.

The story is also notable for bringing late nineteenth century European resort towns to life. Most Dostoevsky works are of course set in Russia, but he spent much time in Europe - including Germany, where this is set -, and uses his wide knowledge and experience to make the casinos, healing waters, and other aspects seem real. This makes the story of some historical interest to those interested in the time or place, but the sociological value is even more important. The Gambler is in many ways a comedy of manners showing how Russians behaved - and were supposed to behave, often a very different thing - abroad among themselves and with other groups. This unsurprisingly leads to much conflict, which Dostoevsky plays up for all its psychological, dramatica, and comedic worth. As all this suggests, the story is not quite as serious as his major works, lacking their epic sweep, unparalleled dramatization of dense philosophical themes, and heavy dialogue. This may disappoint those looking for a masterpiece but may even be a relief to some. It must also be noted that while even the best Dostoevsky is rough around the edges of finer artistic points - he was never a prose stylist or perfectionist, his greatness being unmatched psychological and philosophical dramatization -, this is unsurprisingly even more so because of its composition's circumstances.

In the end, those not fond of more characteristic Dostoevsky may well be pleasantly surprised by the stories, and anyone who likes him should of course read them, whether early or late. An important question is what edition to buy; various translations aside, they are available in many versions from standalones to collections. Most will be better off with an edition like this because of the greater value, but the important thing is to read them in some form.
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on December 13, 2014
At school our sixth form (equivalent of senior high in the US) was split into maths/science and arts. One day in the library I saw a fellow on the arts side looking at this sentence: "La Vie avec un grand V," which he'd translated as, "Life with a big V." I tapped him on the shoulder. "It's 'Life with a capital L'." But he wasn't having it, especially not from a maths/science man. "It says V, not L, Morris."

And that's how I felt about this translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, who are the premier Russian-to-English translators of the era, according to The New Yorker. Award-winning, it says here. But they had me struggling through The Double, and maybe it's my maths/science background, but I found lines like this confusing:

"Announce me, my friend, say, thus and so, to explain. And I'll thank you well, my dear..."

Compare that to the Constance Garnett translation:

"Announce me, my friend, say something or other to explain. I’ll reward you, my good man - ”

At other times we're told that Mr Goliadkin fled "from the shower of flicks hanging over him". Mrs Garnett's translation may have been less precisely accurate, but it wouldn't leave the brain in palpitations.

In spite of that the brilliance of the novelette is undimmed. You might even argue (I'm not) that rendering Goliadkin's experiences in something that is close to but not quite comprehensible English enhances the sense of nightmare. At any rate, right up to the curiously translated final paragraph (for which, in the absence of a footnote, you'll need a degree in Russian social history) it's a completely spellbinding piece of work.

I was less captivated by The Gambler. Dostoevsky knocked it off in a month to satisfy a rapacious businessman who otherwise would have owned everything he wrote for the next nine years. I was amused by the narrator's explanations of why, when a particular number comes up at roulette a couple of times, it therefore can't come up again for a while - until I discovered that Dostoevsky was for a long time a gambling addict himself and probably believed that. So: a reliable narrator without much self-awareness fails to recognize his true love in life. It does capture a sense of addiction and panic, which probably was helped by the thought of what would happen if Dostoevsky didn't meet his deadline. The Gambler doesn't really deserve to stand alongside The Double, but there it is, bringing the average for the book down to 4 stars.
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on October 26, 2009
A work like this has three aspects:

1. The quality of the story
2. The quality of the translation
3. The quality of the book itself

This book, as is the case with all of the Everyman books translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky, gets a 5/5 on all three counts.

The story: The Double's initial reception was not altogether favorable. It has since gained appreciation, and rightfully so. It's a brilliant, hilarious, sometimes confusing story that is simultaneously humorous and melancholy. I haven't finished The Gambler, but it too is a tremendous work of literature; certainly it is one of Dostoevsky's greatest works with his signature embedded psychological study. I needn't sell you on the story, though--if you're looking at this page you no doubt appreciate Dostoevsky's genius and are looking for more to read. As for why you should buy this particular edition...

The translation: Pevear and Volokhonsky are simply brilliant. They've done Dostoevsky, Tolstoy's two big novels, and most if not all of Chekhov and Gogol (among other works). Their translations are superlative. I read their translation of Crime and Punishment back-to-back with Garnett's and there was no comparison. Their translations have become standard in the academic world, and for good reason. They are faithful to the text and have a wonderful feel for each individual work. Garnett, on the other hand, reduces everything to the monotony of Victorian-style prose. Don't even consider getting another translation. And if you're going to get the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, then you must get this version...

The book: Every time I buy a classic work of literature I check first to see if there's an Everyman edition, specifically the cloth-bound hardcover versions. They are absurdly cheap--especially if you buy them on Amazon--and they are beautiful and extremely high-quality. The binding is excellent, the pages are acid-free, smooth, and a slightly off-white cream color that is very pleasing to the eye. The font is a nice, standard serif. The books also look really snappy on your bookshelf, which brings me to my word of warning:

If you buy any one of the Everyman books, you will be filled with the irrational desire to stock your library with them. The aesthetic effect is increased with each book you add, and you'll want nothing more than to have an entire bookshelf filled with nothing but the uniform spines of the Everyman's Library. Buyer beware!
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on February 14, 2015
The translation of The Double is awfully cumbersome. Sentences run on forever, whereas the ANdrew MacAndrew version published in the 1960's is fresh and fluid and moves the reader along with the sense of the story.
Here it belabors every turn of phrase and only serves to distance the reader from this majestic very funny in parts narrative.
I will not attempt The Gambler with this translation. One story is one too many.
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on January 22, 2015
An excellent translation of two of Dostoyevsky's shorter works. Couple that with the quality of Everyman's library and you have a solid definitive translation that makes one of the most challenging Russian authors more accessible to English speakers.
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on March 31, 2014
So... these are my first of Dostoevsky's novellas outside of, I suppose, Notes.... it was really nice to feel the power of his prose in such a confined space, and it was quite enlightening to read two stories that were so separated chronologically. It seemed obvious to me that The Double was the product of a mind not yet fully comfortable with its abilities and direction while The Gambler had every bit of the assured philosophical weight I've come to expect from Dostoevsky. So while I fully enjoyed The Double it never affected me in quite the same way the rest of his catalog has while The Gambler felt like rejoining a conversation with an old friend.

The Double allowed me, I believe for the very first time, to actually guess the ending before I got there. The story itself was a fairly straight-forward dream within a dream sort of tale that definitely disorients the reader but is also very clear in its direction. Dostoevsky made it incredibly easy to (if not impossible not to) put myself squarely in the shoes of Mr. Goliadkin from the moment he chose to attempt to enter society sans invitation. His pain, his loneliness, his fear, and his desperation were all palpable, pointed, and poignant. I can't count the number of times I've put myself in similar situations and desperately wanted nothing more than to fade into the walls of the hallway or squeeze into the mouse hole in the wood pile. I am incredibly jealous that such a young author could evoke such emotion from simple words on a page in only his second attempt at his craft...


Because I too wonder why "I do not possess the secret of a lofty, powerful style, a solemn style, so as to portray all these beautiful and instructive moments of human life, arranged as if on purpose to prove how virtue sometimes triumphs over ill intention, freethinking, vice, and envy!"

Instead, I shall remain envious and hope that it is true that "everything will come in its turn if you have the gumption to wait."

And I shall wait. Which is sometimes what I felt I was doing during the delirium phase of this book. It felt like the ending was such a foregone conclusion that it was often difficult to observe poor Mr. Goliadkin walking through the fire. The language kept me on the edge of my seat hoping and praying that something magical would happen, but mostly I was just frustrated. In a way it felt a lot like reading Flowers for Algernon watching someone slowly slip into a madness from which there was obviously no escape. The faces all eventually fade away…

And then there is The Gambler. While it was mildly difficult to go into this without considering the metacontext in which this story was created, I tried my best to allow these characters to stand on their own and outside the existence of their creator. I think it is a testament to Dostoevsky’s abilities that it was incredibly easy to get sucked into this story while leaving whatever I knew of the author behind…

So if this isn’t a story about the author, who is it about? Who is the eponymous Gambler and what are the stakes? Ostensibly Alexei Ivanovich is the gambler… and he is simply gambling for money or perhaps for the thrill. This notion of the gambler’s identity is quickly challenged when we learn that Alexei sits down to the table for the first time only at the behest of Polina, the object of his unrequited love. Shortly thereafter it seems we are to believe that it is in fact the Grandmother who inspires the title of the story only, in the end, to be shown again that it is Alexei. One of the primary reasons I love Dostoevsky is his ability to make *me* the main character in his stories though, and that holds true here as well… Given that, I have to believe that the gambler is universal, it is you, and it is me.

Yet I don’t particularly care for the thrill of winning or losing money or possessions on bets, and it is here that I found the depth in this story through the eyes of Alexei as the gambler. As prominent as the idea of money was throughout the story, it was not central to Alexei’s existence - his true gamble was on Polina, his ability to love her, and his belief that she could or would also love him. This is why I needed to get outside of Dostoevsky’s world and into the world of the story… I do not know that I could have seen this so clearly with the specter of his own gambling problems looming over my interpretations of the book. Alexei gambled that Polina would not take advantage of his offer to prostrate himself to whatever her wishes may be. And he was wrong. He gambled that she would see his love for her in his continued trips back and forth to the gambling hall for her. He was wrong. He gambled that he could buy her love in one grand gesture as threw everything he had at her feet… and he was wrong.

Eventually, as I suppose is inevitable, he succumbed to the emotional debts he accumulated at fortune’s wheel and lost himself in the “…champagne quite often, because [he] was very sad and extremely bored all the time.” In giving up, Alexei gambled again. This time he gambled that the ball would never land on zero and that his heart was fated to remain in solitude. And he was wrong again. Although it seems as though he was too far gone by the time Astley finally showed him Polina’s true feelings, his number did come up. Alexei, too late, arrived at his conclusion that, “one turn of the wheel, and everything changes.”

My optimistic side wants to say that the takeaway is to never stop betting on your heart, but I know that can lead to ruin and you must, at some point, change your bet if you are ever to win. I want to be as fatalistic as Alexei who, “loves without hope” and “loves [Polina] more every day” despite the “unbearable pain of being without [her].” In reality, however, the wheel only turns a finite number of times for each of us. Red or black, high or low, even or odd, the only thing we can know for sure is that the wheel will eventually stop spinning.

But we are emotional creatures. So as long as the payoff is out there, I’d rather keep betting on my heart and betting *for* people and *for* love and *for* the things I feel fated to have or to be. Gamble often, gamble wisely, but always bet on the thing you love.
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on August 1, 2015
Another reviewer has already done a good job pointing out the awkwardness of this translation, which I mostly just want to second. It's not unreadable, but it's certainly very clumsy English, nothing at at all like the excellent Pevear/Volokhonsky translations of the bigger novels.
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on September 17, 2014
I especially liked The Gambler. Dostoevsky's descriptions on the psychology of various types of gamblers was hilarious. The Gambler keeps a mad pace and the characters are neurotic as they are in most of his books.
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