Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Double - Fyodor Dostoyevsky


You wait ages for a book called The Double to come along, then two arrive in doublequick time.  First the Pelecanos (see below), now the Dostoyevsky.

The Russian Double is from 1846, an early novella and the author's second published work of fiction.  Dostoyevsky was in his mid-twenties, a long way from imprisonment in Siberia and the dark depths of his mature work.  Essentially what we have here is a straight take on Gogol's The Nose from ten years earlier.  Even the dialogue smacks of the earlier work and, according to the notes by Ronald Wilks, Dostoyevsky even quotes from The Government Inspector and 'The Overcoat' in The Double.  We can safely say, then, he was a Gogol fan.

What the young Dostoyevsky lacks, however, is the mature Gogol's command of the absurd.  Here, middle ranking civil servant Golyadkin finds his life usurped by a doppelgänger who even claims to have the same name.  In The Nose the titular appendage absents itself from the face of Major Kovalyov and adopts an independent lifestyle.  Gogol embraces the absurd whereas Dostoyevsky opts for Kafkaesque comedy.  Both aim for a parody of naturalistic dialogue and internal monologue which was cutting edge at the time but now seems horribly contrived.  That said, The Double is enjoyable - I especially relished the description of the St Petersburg winter weather - and, like the best novellas, is just the perfect length for its story.  Wilks' translation (2009) seems about right.  I'm not sure I needed the notes.  Does it matter where some of the towns are?

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