Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Double, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

Dostoyevsky’s short early novel about a paranoid, mid-level office worker is a minor classic. It’s comic, surreal and psychologically spot on.

The Double was Dostoyevsky’s second novel, published in 1846. He later revised it in 1866.

The style of the novel is very much in the vein of fellow Russian Nikolai Gogol’s black comedies, although the writing certainly does anticipate the later novels, such as Crime and Punishment and The Devils.

The plot is fairly simple. A government clerk, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, meets a younger man who looks exactly like him. Not only do the two men look like twins, they also have the exact same full name. To make matters worse, the younger Golyadkin (named junior throughout the text) has taken a job, exactly the same position at Golyadkin senior’s place of work. Throughout the story Golyadkin junior taunts and humiliates Golyadkin senior, who to add to his problems suffers all sorts of paranoia and hypochondria. Indeed, it often seems just possible that Golyadkin senior has dreamt up this terrible foe and the dreadful fate that he leads him to.

Dostoyevsky brilliantly mixes a hallucinatory style (visually the surrealist paintings of Magritte came to mind as I read) with a witty and sophisticated black humour. The laughs aren’t explicit, but rather implied in the farcical situations that Golyadkin senior keeps winding up in. Anyone who has felt themselves to be excessively sensitive, paranoid or simply unable to cope with social situations will find much relief in Golyadkin’s feverish stream-of-consciousness ravings. It’s good to know you’re not alone! Dostoyevsky clearly lived at the edge of his nerves, if The Double is anything to go by.

It’s a bit sad to read that Dostoyevsky didn’t think much of his second novel. He was only in his mid twenties when he wrote it. At only 130 pages, it’s quite a short and entertaining read. It carries its brief off very well, describing a man with a persecution complex who may be creating most of his problems in his own mind. The Double is a great place to start for those looking to read Dostoyevsky.

The Double, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Translated by Constance Garnett. Published by Dover Classics. ISBN: 9780486295725. $10.95

To sign up for our monthly newsletter, featuring new releases, book reviews and favourite articles from around the web, click here.