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Title: The Double
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Translator: Constance Garnett
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
In Saint Petersburg, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin works as a titular councillor (rank 9 in the Table of Ranks established by Peter the Great.), a low-level bureaucrat struggling to succeed.
Golyadkin has a formative discussion with his Doctor Rutenspitz, who fears for his sanity and tells him that his behaviour is dangerously antisocial. He prescribes “cheerful company” as the remedy. Golyadkin resolves to try this, and leaves the office. He proceeds to a birthday party for Klara Olsufyevna, the daughter of his office manager. He was uninvited, and a series of faux pas lead to his expulsion from the party. On his way home through a snowstorm, he encounters a man who looks exactly like him, his double. The following two thirds of the novel then deals with their evolving relationship.
At first, Golyadkin and his double are friends, but Golyadkin Jr. proceeds to attempt to take over Sr.’s life, and they become bitter enemies. Because Golyadkin Jr. has all the charm, unctuousness and social skills that Golyadkin Sr. lacks, he is very well-liked among the office colleagues. At the story’s conclusion, Golyadkin Sr. begins to see many replicas of himself, has a psychotic break, and is dragged off to an asylum by Doctor Rutenspitz.
This was extremely confusing. I’m used to being confused by russian stories as the authors simply think differently than I do but this just felt even more so than usual.
I can chalk that up to 3 possibilities. First, this is a novel about a man going insane and as we’re in his head, the journey to madness makes no sense itself. The second is that this was Dostoyevsky’s second novel and so it was unpolished and not as well put together as his later works. The option is that the translator bunged things up, badly. I really can’t say which option is correct but if all 3 played a part it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
Reading this so closely after finishing In the Court of the Yellow King was a mistake. That book was all about madness in phantasmagorical terms while this was “real” madness. It simply overloaded me in terms of what I could handle. Many of the situations were supposed to be humorous but they never struck me that way. It was simply sad seeing a man going insane and not knowing what was going on. It rang all too true to life too. I’ve dealt with a couple of people on meds and when they got off their meds they were just like Golyadkin. It was scary.
I am glad this was as short as it was. By the end when Golyadkin is committed to an insane asylum I was ready for this to be over, as I couldn’t handle it any more. Probably a good thing I’m not a therapist or something, hahahahaa 🙂 Despite my issues, I am glad I read this and it has in no way deterred me from continuing on with this Russian journey I have begun.