The Double – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Date finished: April 19th 2016

Never have I been quite so torn whilst reading a book. It was a bit like there were two versions of me: one feverishly gripped and desperate to know how The Double would end, and the other relentlessly irritated, continuously on the cusp of throwing the book aside and giving up on it completely…

The Double follows Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin who, after a day of inexplicable misunderstandings and embarrassment, goes to work to find a new man in his department who looks exactly the same as him – his doppelganger. His colleagues don’t seem to notice the startling resemblance between the two of them and, despite trying his best to befriend his double, he resolves that the other Golyadkin means him harm – and he seems to be doing rather well on that front with his cunning tricks and the way he charms all Golyadkin’s friends and colleagues. Can Golyadkin outwit his double and stop his enemies from destroying his life?

045The Double‘s premise is doubtless an intriguing one but it’s execution leaves something to be desired. Dostoyevsky, as Behemoth said in The Master and Margarita, is immortal, but The Double isn’t the reason why. Later classics such as Crime and Punishment The Idiot, and The Brothers Karamazov are generally cited as his best novels and all of these were published in the 1860s. The Double, on the other hand, was written in 1846 and was among Dostoyevsky’s first published works. It shows. Dostoyevsky’s rambling narrative – though somewhat useful in showing us Golyadkin’s confused mental state – is tiresomely lengthy, and needlessly repetitive. The concept is compelling, it just seems that, in his early years, Dostoyevsky lacked the brevity (and a good editor) to trim down some of the unnecessary fat that clings to this book. One could shave a good quarter from it without losing anything in the process.

It’s a real shame too because, beneath its rambling, self-justifying exterior is a compelling story that taps into the irrational mind; paranoia, anxiety and social awkwardness are abundant between the pages of The Double, and Dostoyevsky has no trouble in portraying the internal psychology of the introvert and using it to great advantage in his storytelling. There are parts of The Double that will stay with me – the atmosphere of confusion and self-doubt; parts that resonate with me as a person – that strange paranoia and existential fear that we all fear at stressful times; but, mostly there are parts that I’ll forget. The novel’s idea is intriguing – even terrifying in some regards, but ultimately, the way it’s written lets it down and, as a result, the whole work becomes a monument to lost potential.

I’m not the only one who was disappointed with The Double – Dostoyevsky himself said in his own personal writings:

“Most decidedly, I did not succeed with that novel; however, its idea was rather lucid, and I have never expressed in my writings anything more serious. Still, as far as form was concerned, I failed utterly.”

Only Dostoyevsky could’ve put it so well.




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