The Double

      13 Comments on The Double

The DoubleThe Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Published: 1846
Translated By: Jessie Coulson (from Russian in 1972)
Length: 144 pages

Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin is a government clerk, a faceless bureaucrat, who is struggling both in work and in his social life. After a particularly emotional encounter at a party, while walking home through a cold night’s fog, he finds himself face to face with his double, a man identical in look, background, and even name. At first, they becomes friends. Golyadkin even shares his home with him, but before soon his doppelgänger begins to take over his life. Golyadkin is awkward with people, but this double is charismatic and popular. Golyadkin isn’t getting anywhere in his career, but the double is working with his superiors and advancing within the organization. He’s everything Golyadkin has tried and failed to be.

This was my first Dostoyevsky novel, and I really had mixed feelings about it. I like the premise and how the story was structured, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style. The dialogue, in particular, was a bit painful to get through. Golyadkin’s incessant repeating of each character’s name while speaking to them was a bit too much for me. I don’t think it’s a translation problem, Jessie Coulson seemed to do a fine job on the rest, but rather a style choice made to show how the character was struggling to hang on. It did successfully convey that feeling, but it wasn’t fun to read. When characters weren’t speaking, I found myself enjoying the story much more.

I was surprised by how darkly funny this was at times. There were scenes that were awkward to the point of slapstick, a weirdly tragic slapstick that I thoroughly enjoyed. I especially loved how Golyadkin would struggle with getting the nerve up to do something, standing outside a party for the better part of three hours for example, and as soon as he’d decide to abandon the plan he’d immediately turn around and go through with it. It felt like the physical version of an internal monologue that many introverted people will know all too well.

SPOILER
At the end of the novel, Golyadkin is driven away to an asylum. This business with his doppelgänger was all in his head, and it ends with him being locked away. I was still thinking there really was a double at that point, mainly because we see the hallucination conversing with people in the office and at parties, and it’s written very much as if they’re two different people.

Looking back now, I do really like the idea of his double being a delusion. I’ve often heard people with social anxiety describe social situations as feeling like they’re an actor playing a part, so the idea of that stress manifesting itself like this makes a kind of sense. Golyadkin feels so out of character that it’s like watching a completely different version of himself.

There is a scene in which Golyadkin asks his co-worker if the new hire reminds him of anyone, and it takes a while but does eventually dawn on him that Golyadkin and his double look remarkable similar, and I don’t really understand how that works with the idea of Golyadkin going insane. I suppose you could write that whole conversation off as a hallucination, but that seems a bit easy. There are a couple of moments in the story, looking back, that don’t seem to really fit with the ending.
/SPOILER

So, I’m still not sure about Dostoyevsky, but I will give him another go at some point. I have Notes from Underground as well, so that may be the next one. The Double was one of his first published novels, so maybe I’ll enjoy his later work more. Even though I was lukewarm on this one, I am interested in giving it a re-read at a later date. I think it would be really interesting to see each scene again, knowing how it ends.

13 thoughts on “The Double

  1. Michael @ Knowledge Lost

    I still need to read this one yet. But I would recommend starting with Crime and Punishment to get yourself use to Dostoevsky’s style. A lot of his books are very philosophical, so you need to be in the right headspace to tackle them. But crime and punishment is the most accessible

    Reply
    1. Rob Post author

      Yeah, I’ve heard Crime and Punishment is a good place to start, while also being his most popular novel, so I’d like to pick that up soon as well. We have a big book sale coming up, so I’ll keep an eye out for a good edition.

      Do you have a favourite translator for his novels yet?

      Reply
      1. Michael @ Knowledge Lost

        I like the David McDuff translation but there is a new translation by Oliver Ready that looks amazing. Anything but Pevear and Volokhonsky is fine but Constance Garnett is a little dated so maybe avoid her too

        Reply
  2. Silvia

    I have read several books by the author (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, The Gambler -that’s a short story-, and I’m reading Brothers Karamazov right now). I read in Spanish, so I don’t know what’s the best English translation. Literary or written Spanish doesn’t age as much as English, I’d say, and a translation done in Victorian times (like Garnett’s in English) will not be dated for us, Spanish readers. But I see D as having that thing with names in dialogues (he constantly repeats their names in their different aliases all the time), I wonder if he spoke like that ? 🙂

    I agree with the previous comment by Michael, that Crime and Punishment showcases D in full, and up to these past weeks, I thought it was the best book by him I’ve read. But, right now, I’m surprised by how engaging and modern Brothers Karamazov is. I’m reading this book with my friend Kim, and I have another couple of friends who comment also on how hard it’s to put the book down.
    I have to say that BK was his last book before he died. I never used to think those things would matter, but I see BK as a more mature work, if I put it in the context of the other books I’ve read by him. There’s a good balance between plot, descriptions and dialogues, imo.

    Reply
    1. Rob Post author

      That’s really interesting to hear, how Spanish doesn’t age in quite the same way as English. I never really considered that before.

      I eventually got used to the repeating names, but it sure did take me a while, hah. I really hope he didn’t speak that way.

      Looks like I potentially have a lot to look forward to in his bibliography! I think I might look into picking up Crime and Punishment later this year.

      Reply
  3. J.E. Fountain

    I just finished Dostoyevsky as well (Crime and Punishment), review due soon. I’m a bit on the fence yet, but taking a few days to let it sink in. I really liked The Brothers Karamazov though, so I can recommend that for your next Dostoyevsky. I was not even familiar with The Double. Sounds interesting. Nice review.

    Reply
    1. Rob Post author

      Thanks! Sounds like Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov are definitely the two favourites. I guess I started in a weird place with Dostoyevsky, hah. I’m definitely curious now to read some of his other work.

      Reply
  4. Tarissa

    I haven’t heard of this one! Now, I’ve never read any Dostoyevsky yet. But this one seems doable (most of his works just seem so long). I’m participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge too, and might use The Double as my Russian read. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Rob Post author

      Part of why I picked up The Double ages ago was because it was a shorter introduction to his work. I agree that diving into some of his larger novels is a bit daunting. He actually wrote quite a few shorter novels and novellas, so there are definitely options.

      Thanks for dropping by!

      Reply
    1. Rob Post author

      I really liked Richard Ayoade’s first movie, and his adaptation of The Double was actually part of the reason why I picked this up first! Glad you liked the movie! I’ll be watching it in the next week or two.

      Reply

Leave a Reply