The Gambler and Other Stories (1867-1877) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

An excellent collection of some excellent stories. There’s some measure of unity between how the stories are structured together (like two consecutive stories featuring suicide), but for the most part it is just “The Gambler” surrounded by unrelated short stories and novellas. But what stories they are! Four spins of roulette, and a revolver.

8225482

WHITE NIGHTS

An emotionally devastating novella with Dostoyevsky’s usual psychological depth.

It’s amazing how can so quickly, with so much clarity, sketch a character out three-dimensionally, make them as alternately endearing and irritating as any real person, make them feel “lived-in”, not like a writerly construct just for a story.

The psyche of the nameless narrator is such a common one among people today, I can think of a number of communities online that exemplify a very similar sort of thinking. Dostoyevsky really does capture timeless attitudes and states of mind.

The loneliness, the love, the youth, the decay, the sentimentality, the misery, it all melds together in such a real way. I give it four letters, and a bench.

A CHRISTMAS PARTY AND A WEDDING

A thin, very short story from Dostoyevsky.

Keen observations on superficiality and inequality (as keen as they could be with only a few pages to cover them). Relatable description of being very much an outsider at a party. A fairly well-sketched depiction of the merciless corruption of the sorts of people depicted.

But not much in the way of a particularly compelling story, although again, its brevity ensures it never has a chance to bore. I give it three cover-less books, and a fancy doll.

A NASTY BUSINESS

A very well-realised look at the great gap between self-perception and social reality, classes, and ultimately what one thinks about themselves and what others actually think of them.

Dostoyevsky portrays his protagonist and his exploits in such excruciating deal that it’s both infuriating and invites the reader to cringe often. The story just escalates, and escalates, and escalates, and what starts as a sort of detached amusement at the protagonist turns into rage and disgust as his ridiculousness, and all that he embodies, is increasingly acutely realised.

Yet it’s not all condemnation and satire. The feeling of being trapped in a social situation is relatable as any, and Dostoyevsky makes it read as all too real.

It’s hilarious, and aggravating, and very well-told. I give it four glasses of champagne, and a bed of chairs.

THE GAMBLER

Rushed to completion to meet gambling debts, “The Gambler” reads as a kind of Dostoyevsky-lite, about as short as a novel can be before becoming a novella, pacing through a lot of Dostoyevsky’s strengths (keen psychological insight, insight into the Russian character, issues of wealth and poverty) without the depth or creativity of some of his other works, but still to great effect.

The insight into the psyche of a problem gambler is interesting in being more pointedly autobiographical than just empathetic, the way the plights of other Dostoyevsky protagonists sometimes are. Alexei Ivanovich is combative, self-aggrandising, and delights in being needlessly provocative. He’s bitter, resentful, flighty, and obsessed with women, quick to absolve himself of his own impact upon relationships, and displace his responsibility onto what he’d describe as the whims of others.

Roulette, gambling, isn’t just projection for him, but an opportunity to tap right into that inherent, base self-destructive desire for gratification and satisfaction of the ego. It’s imposing his will onto the chaos of the world. The way he describes not just the world and all its worries melting away when he gambles, but even his conscious mind itself, his awareness of the logical fallacies he’s committing slipping away in the rush of the game…Dostoyevsky communicates how intoxicating it is for him very well.

Not as ambitious or meaningful as his greater works, but still a powerful insight into addiction. Four ‘zeroes’, and everything on red.

BOBOK

A zippy little atmospheric short story, perhaps inspired by Dostoyevsky’s own writing difficulties at the time.

The irony of the protagonist literally being surrounded by stories ripe for the writing, yet dismissing them as nonsense and wondering where else to get inspiration, seems to key into some of the psyche around writer’s block.

Even setting aside any greater meanings like that, it’s a neat atmosphere in the graveyard and with the spookiness of the talking ghosts and the “inertia of consciousness”. Plenty of interesting ideas in such a short tale. Three cards, and a shared anecdote.

THE MEEK ONE

“Long live the electricity of human thought” indeed.

Keen, nuanced psychological insight as can be expected from Dostoyevsky. Intriguing structure that really melds the protagonist’s deluded mindset with the progression of the story itself.

Dostoyevsky includes an author’s note at the beginning of the story explaining both the nature of the unreliable narrator and the conceit of the story being structured like a running narration even though that wouldn’t realistically fit into the story, but both aspects are executed well enough that I think the story would have worked fine without them. For a story focusing on breakdowns in communication, Dostoyevsky certainly tried to communicate clearly with the reader.

The ease with which Dostoyevsky sketches out two complicated characters and details the nuanced interplay of pride, jealousy, possession, gender roles and communication between them is very impressive, especially coming in at so few pages. Four coffins and a strained silence.

THE DREAM OF A RIDICULOUS MAN

A captivating short story encapsulating a lot of Dostoyevsky’s specific Christian worldview.

Dostoyevsky pushes the fantastical elements here more than he usually does, to great effect. Some sections almost resound with science-fiction imagery, being read these days at least, but the theology and morality behind the story really are the driving forces.

The prose in this story (at least, the English translation by Ronald Meyer) is also more striking than usual, some very lovely turns of phrase here, particularly in the utopian section of the story.

It’s didactic to an extent, but not in a cloying way. It covers a character arc clearly informed by Dostoyevsky’s own beliefs, but I didn’t feel like the story was as much a call to action as an illustration of a worldview. Four revolvers, and an epiphany.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s