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on 8 April 2006
Dostoevsky wrote 'TG' very quickly because he needed to pay of his own gambling debts during the period in which he was completing 'Crime and Punishment'. Consequently, although it contains all the classic motifs often found in Dostoevsky's work, it is very short and hurried, and reads like a 700 page novel condensed into a 100 page novella. It is 'Dostoevsky Lite', with all the elements but not the depth of his other books.
'TG' is the story of a few days in the life of the household of a Russian General who has relocated to a gambling town in Germany (Roulettenberg) and frittered his fortune away. The protagonist, a ward of the general's family, is a classic Dostoevsky lead man, feverish and passionate, as he becomes embroiled in complex love triangles and money wrangling within the general's entourage, and attempts to divert them from the twin disasters of financial and social ruin. The arrival of the general's mother (whose legacy is a potential source of redemption for the family) brings the family crises to a head. All of this, despite the brevity of the book, is told with the wonderful characterisations and relative complexity of Dostoevsky's other works.
Although I described 'TG' as 'Dostoevsky Lite', this isn't necessarily a negative. It didn't, for me, have anything like the impact of his longer novels, but conversely it was a quicker and easier read than his other books. I think that anyone wishing to dip their toe in Dostoevsky but who is intimidated by his reputation, could do a lot worse than starting with 'TG'. Likewise, anyone already a fan will not be disappointed. He has written better books, much better, but 'TG' was a very good book by anyone else's standards.
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VINE VOICEon 24 August 2011
The Gambler is an extraordinary tale by one of the acknowledged masters of world literature and this edition benefits from an excellent introduction, low-cost and the opportunity to experience the translation of Constance Garnett.

The Gambler is at one level of picaresque tale of obsessions, erotic, financial, social and of course gambling itself, which ultimately represents the hazard of oneself and one's life. At the same time, events and remarks can be read in more than one way since they possess archetypal or mythical status. For example, 'the Gambler' of the novel offers to throw himself off the top of Snake Peak at the instruction of the young woman he is in love with. For Dostoevsky, a Christian whose attitudes have been informed by the mystical content of his epileptic fits and the cast of his extraordinary mind , this has parallels with one of the temptations of Christ, when Lucifer proposes to him that he should leap from the top of a mountain.

Ultimately, the book explores the nature of freedom, the pseudo-thrills, -freedoms and -dreams of people and asks where happiness really lies.

Much of the novel is also based around the experiences of Dostoevsky himself, who was prone to gambling, was married with compulsive ardour to a woman who treated him in a way experienced by the `hero', who is also a kind of anti-hero, travelled abroad, the story takes place in Germany and Paris, and so on.
The novel was also born in extraordinary circumstances that synchronise with the content. Dostoevsky at made a kind of gamble that he could finish the book in a short deadline while also finishing his masterpiece Crime and Punishment, with the penalty of failing to do so being the loss of his livelihood for nearly 10 years. With less than a month remaining to hand the book into his publisher he had not yet got started. The frenetic pace of the subsequent conversation is echoed in the headlong pace that characterises the events of the story. (By the way, it was while finishing this book with the help of a stenographer that he discovered the woman who would become his wife and change his life.)

The Gambler has neither the epic scale nor literary stature of his great masterpieces including Crime and Punishment and the Idiot, but it is nevertheless an extremely fine major work, a must read for anyone interested in literature and human psychology, and for some benefits from its brevity.

This is an old translation by Constance Garnett, who is the most influential of all Russian translators. Single-handedly she brought Russian literature to the English-speaking world, translating 73 masterpieces. The translations have been criticised, most particularly for the fact that she inevitably brings a certain similarity of style, and Dostoevsky is not one of the authors that she is most admired for, yet despite this her translations remain a benchmark for modern translators, so this remains excellent value.

Furthermore, it's been quite well typeset for e-reading, reads perfectly on the iPad Kindle and with few flaws in the Kindle itself.
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on 18 September 2015
FD was a basket case and there is an autobiographical element in this luridly entertaining account of frauds, fakes, chancers and gamblers congregated at Roulettenburg, all looking to score off each other or get a result on the gaming tables. The characters are more recognisably from English literature than those in his great novels, who are profoundly Russian, and the types here are found in Jane Austen, even if the treatment is at FD's customary fever pitch and he's a lot more explicit in acknowledging the sexual urge. Grandmamma is the highlight, the old Moscow matriarch who refuses to die, but loves to bet, and thus condemns various relatives to penury. Her barbed comments make mincemeat of the French hypocrites (who FD seems to have hated) surrounding the Russian party. Roulette's addictive allure is superbly evoked - miles better than the gambling scenes in Casino Royale, for example - and there is real suspense as the narrator lays his bets before the wheel spins. Did I say FD was a basket case? I should in fairness add that he was probably the greatest writer since Shakespeare and that only the very best of the rest, such as the inimitable Jane Austen, even come close. I'll put a thousand on red...
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on 21 November 2011
I would heartily agree with Angus Jenkinson's excellent review and would also add that I prefer this translation to Jessie Coulson's (Penguin Classics of yore). The breathless pace at which it was written, and at which I read it, is well served by her rather artless style.

This is a book about being stripped to the base core, about being unrefined, out of control and lost. It is not suited to overly literary treatment. Too many translators miss that the Russian classics - unlike many of our own classics - were not written for a small coterie of educated people but with the entire world in mind.
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on 2 September 2014
If you have an addiction to anything you will feel the trickle of sweat running down your neck as you read this and feel the joy of of winning the despair of losing and both the fear and terror of winning again. How did he manage to put so much terror, despair and bewilderment into one short story? Genius.
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on 31 January 2002
It's a great book. It shows the reality and it is not predictable. It isn't a book with a happy end, it is just how it goes in every life. Not everything is going great it learns you everything about roulette. It's very exciting.
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on 24 April 2016
Classic Russian Novel - mostly about relationships between people - and obviously gambling. Worth a read.
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on 8 January 2006
It's a gripping account of fate and of character. Hypocritical shallowness and transparencies are satisfyingly reversed. Humourously too - the arrival of the Grandmother.
Intelligent accounts of people and of social tendencies and addiction..... 'the Russian character'. Roulette the destroyer - pride that falls to its wheel. The balance of characters are slyly dependent or more honest and cutting - the Grandmother. All are vulnerable to the weaknesses of humanity. The narrator has our sympathies for his detachment / lack of interest...and his awareness.....A classic in pace and observation and truth.
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on 4 February 2005
This is in my opinion the author's best book - a genuine masterpiece. Significantly shorter than other works such as "The devils" and "Crime and punishement", he achieved a rare perfection on this novel. I would certainly recommend it.
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on 23 August 2013
The first book I read by Dostoevsky was Crime and Punishment, I guess that was his best and very hard to beat.
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