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3.8 out of 5 stars
The Double
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 8 April 2006
Most of Dostoevsky's famous works were written after his spell in prison and mock execution had profoundly affected his world view. 'The Double' was written before all this, and is consequently very different from the other books of his I have read. It is the story of Golyadkin, a socially inept clerk who is encouraged by his physician to socialise more. No sooner has he received this advice than another Golyadkin appears on the scene, physically indistinguishable from the first, but much more confident. This second Golyadkin frustrates the ambitions of the first in love, at work and in society, precipitating a shocking end.
Although many of Dostoevsky's trade-marks are in evidence here, such as the feverish ant-hero and the criticism of Russian society, the hallucinatory style is unusual for him. Impossible events are described very matter-of-factly and the supernatural premise to the whole book is accepted by all the characters, giving the story a surreal feel. It is also comic in places, more obviously so than his later books (though I think that Dostoevsky is often more tongue-in-cheek than he is given credit for). 'The Double' could easily read as a horror story (albeit a largely psychological one). The whole thing reminded me of Gogol's short story 'The Nose', as much as anything. All this meant that it was very unlike anything else of his that I have read. It was still very good, but a bit strange for Dostoevsky. Definitely worth a read, but not one to judge the rest of his stuff by.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 2 June 2008
The Double is a Kafkaesque novel, 70 years before Kafka. A dark, gripping psychological thriller, it tells the story of Goliadkin, whose life unravels when an identical-looking man starts to impersonate him. Short, surreal, economically written, mean-spirited and carrying a strong anti-establishment vibe, this is a far cry from the novels of Dostoevsky's golden period 20 years later. Despite this, it's surprising how much of the familiar Dostoevsky style is there in embryonic form: a grimy everyday setting; frantic, turbulent dialogue; high-strung characters; attention to psychological detail; a mischievous narrator; and a good helping of black humour. Though The Double is not clearly the work of the same author who (after a spell in Siberia) would go on to write a series of masterpieces, the clues are there.

As with all Dostoevsky's work, getting a good translation will transform your experience of the novel. I strongly recommend the brand new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, contained in a single volume with The Gambler. By preserving the idiosyncracies of the author in fresh, modern English, these acclaimed translators make Russian literature as brilliant and rich as it should be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2012
The Double is a very short book, as well as being one of Dostoyevsky's early successes. The description of the book makes it sound quite Kafkaesque in that a man finds his entire life is taken over by someone who looks identical to him.

Reading the opening few chapters, though, does reveal an author's voice that is quite different from Kafka and very different indeed from Bulgakov. We are introduced to our "hero," Mr. Golyadkin. Yet this man does not appear to be any way a `hero' as one traditionally would traditionally think of such. Golyadkin is a paranoid man, acting as if (though the text never states it) he is drunk. Behaving thoroughly inappropriately at his doctor's and gatecrashing a party, he quickly reaches a low point and wishes he were someone else.

Then something odd happens. He spies a stranger nearby who is dressed very much like him. Indeed, as he follows this chap home, this is indeed the eponymous Double. As the story progresses, this Double stays at Golyadkin's house, starts work at the same office and starts to insidiously infiltrate Golyadkin's circles of influence.

Throughout, we are forced by the author to be on Golyadkin's side, referring to him as "our hero" and with derogatory terms used to describe the Double. Yet one cannot escape the thought, fostered at the start, that much of this is going on inside Golyadkin's mind. There are times when we wonder if the Double really was up to no good, or whether we are simply being fed the paranoid delusions of a madman. This all makes for some uncomfortable reading at times, with some confusion being brought into the mind of this reader; but I think this was partly the intention of the author.

As the story comes towards its conclusion, I did start to think it more reminiscent of Kafka, particularly with the theme that the central character was a piggy in the middle, surrounded by conspirators who were all in on some secret knowledge that he lacked. Even heading onto the last page, I still could not determine what would happen and having finished, I was still not certain what did happen. But I'll leave it for you to find out that for yourself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2014
Although I had trouble at times deciphering the internal monologue of Mr. Golyadkin, I ultimately enjoyed this book very much purely because of the brilliance with which Dostoevsky portrays paranoia and anxiety - from the perspective of the individual! The effect of this can occasionally be to make the writing truly maddening to follow, but that's all part of the fun. I found it got easier to understand as the plot developed further (say ~50 pages in). Probably not my favourite Dostoevsky novel - less social commentary and more of a psychological 'jaunt' than some of his writings - but a fun read nonetheless; would definitely recommend it.
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on 31 January 2015
I decided to read this after seeing watching Richard Ayoade's recent film adaptation, which I thought was fantastic. Since I saw the film first, there were inevitably preconceptions when reading the novella, but thankfully the only thing the book and film share is the overall concept, so both versions are easy enough to discuss on their own merits without drawing heavy comparisons between the two.

Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin is a painfully shy low-level government clerk, who’s instructed to become more socially active by his doctor. He jumps headlong from one awkward social scenario to the next, committing an array of social faux-pas; he is full of contradictions, often not contemplating the consequences and deciding that it will all turn out “for the best”, yet working himself up into a panic at other instances. Despite first being written 170 years ago, the depiction of social anxiety is all too familiar, and there are some entertaining moments of dark comedy in his constant re-evaluation of every situation, whether it’s important of not. It’s at his lowest point that he meets his titular double, who is the epitome of everything Golyadkin wants to be: charming, confident and charismatic. He even shares Golyadkin’s name and job, and begins to take over the original’s life and turns others against him.

I’d never read Dostoyevsky before now (I’ll get round to Crime and Punishment eventually. Maybe.), so it was interesting to read one of his earlier stories (1846, but revised in 1866 which resulted in this version), and particularly one which he himself said “as far as form was concerned, [he] failed utterly”. Looking at reviews from both then and now, the novella has provoked mixed responses since its release, but has been interpreted in many ways over the years. The story struck me as particularly Kafka-esque, despite it being written about sixty years before his work, in its exploration of identity and existential themes, as well as the alienating effects of society and bureaucracy. Although a Kafka story such as The Metamorphosis involves a transformation, it’s more blatantly allegorical than literal, but The Double constantly challenges the reader to question the reality of what they’re reading.

This is largely conveyed through the intriguing narrative voice; despite the main character, Golyadkin, being repeatedly referred to as “our hero” by an omniscient narrator (and there’s very little that’s ‘heroic’ about him), the book is dominated by long segments of stream of consciousness, creating a largely subjective perspective through his progressively fragmented state of mind. Indeed, there’s a sense that the majority of everything which happens in the story is filtered through his mind, and you begin to question his sanity as the line between the supposedly outside voice and his internal monologues becomes increasingly blurred.

Dostoyevsky’s unique writing style is captivating yet maddening; the novella is written with a breathless pace, featuring constant off-tangent imaginings in Golyadkin’s head which are sometimes difficult to decipher. His dialogue, when he actually manages to communicate with someone, consists of him constantly restarting his sentences and overusing terms of endearment, which often end up coming across as insincere or antagonising. We remain suffocatingly close to him throughout, and it’s easy to sympathise with his humiliation yet cringe at his social incompetence. The writing feels claustrophobic, including the dialogue, and it’s sometimes difficult to picture and follow the action. This results in a rather surreal novella, but it’s highly effective in terms of evoking the mental state and alienation of “our hero”; the unreliable narration makes us question whether it’s all just a paranoid delusion.

But amidst all the confusion, Dostoyevsky raises some interesting questions about identity and our inherent desire to be accepted by others. Arguably, it can be difficult to dig out the deeper meanings, and literary devices such as metaphor or symbolism can also be easily lost amongst the dense prose. I preferred the first half of the novel, mainly because the character interactions are more interesting and provide some kind of basis in reality, before we really go into the nightmare-like weirdness of Golyadkin’s head. It’s no coincidence that this shift occurs at the same time as the introduction of the double, who has a smaller presence in the story than you might expect. I’d have liked further direct interaction between the two, but I understand that he is more of a catalyst for Golyadkin’s introspection than a character in his own right (which is one of the film’s main deviations).

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed immediately after finishing it, and left with a sense that I didn’t quite ‘get’ it; it seemed to be building up to something which never came (don’t expect any explicit Fight Club-like revelation), and the end felt somewhat unsatisfactory. However, it makes more sense after having some time to think about it as a whole, and it probably warrants another read though when I have the energy. I wouldn’t say it’s a book I enjoyed, and it was often an exasperating chore to get through, but I am glad I read it; despite it being challenging, Dostoyevsky’s style is unique and there are enough thought-provoking ideas about our psychology and identity.
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An intriguing short novel, which I have begun over again. While lacking the multitude of very distinctive characters who tend to populate Dostoevsky's works, here we have a superb portrait of one: Golyadkin, who exists in two different versions. At the same time there is a clear ambiguity throughout the novel, making it difficult to say anything with utter clarity. This made me interested in how other readers had tackled or interpreted the piece. I thought the synopsis on Wikipedia was appalling, suggestive as it was of a very insensitive reader who will not allow the ambiguity that is part of the fabric of this delightful read. Kafka's The Trial, which also intrigues, delights and horrifies me, and is a greater novel than this one, seems less original after discovering the blueprint offered here: in The Double it could be we are plunged into an especially elaborate dream of the protagonist, one creating a narrative out of his state of mind. We are certainly not in a naturalistic novel, even supposing Golyadkin is having a nervous breakdown: breakdowns surely never take the form of what we find here. No, we are in more Kafkaesque territory - before Kafka came along, yet what particularly appeals in this case is Dostoevsky's very light touch. Nabakov, a vile mediocre author, is all of a piece with the insanity that troubles this work with his insulting lies about one who is, thankfully, now increasingly being recognised as the world's greatest novelist, and this is a rewarding early grappling with a psychological face he would mine later more extensively.
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on 16 March 2014
My grandson plays poker online. He's not an addict and good at maths. It's sometimes difficult to know what to give to an 18yr old young man but his mother always encouraged him to read from a very early age, so I knew that a book would not be automatically a poor choice. I had read The Gambler many years ago and found it hilarious and slightly crazy. I thought that Dostoeveskiys fondness for marginalised and eccentric characters might appeal to someone young. Also as a slavophile, Dostoevsky is very rude about people from west European countries ( the French, the Germans and the Polish being favourite targets) and I thought that a century or so later this too would be funny. I had to re-read the novella to see if it had stood the test of time. It did but the beginning is quite slow -- deliberately -- and it is followed by an explosion of energy in chapter 9. I'll have to see what an 18yr old thinks. The edition is a scholarly one with intro., footnotes, recommended reading and even a note on the various currencies involved. Happy reading to you all!
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on 26 April 2010
The Dover Thrift edition of The Double is a cheap way to discover Dostoyevsky. This is a low cost and low quality paperback - but that doesn't mean it is poor. Far from it, it represents excellent value.

The tale is based around the hero, the hapless Mr Golyadkin, who finds trouble when a double appears in his life. The story is beautifully written in a style typical of the period, which can make it difficult for modern readers. However, once you are in the mindset of the writer, the story flows and the exploits of both Mr Golyadkins unfold in a stunning fashion.
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on 3 November 2014
Hilarious, creepy, claustrophobic, dark, disturbing.

Fantastic book which needs to be read at least twice
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 November 2010
`The Double', Dostoevsky's second publication, was a vast improvement on his first short novel in letters `Poor Folk'. The latter had a poor intrigue, had no real characters (only types), was a would-be tearjerker and was pure expression of rather childish emotions without real impact on the reader.
`The Double' is already an excellent character study of a `double' personality: a (too) good, servile one and its counterpart, an evil, cynical parasite.
However, Dostoevsky's book is no challenge for Gogol's formidable masterpiece with the same theme `The Diary of a Madman'. His book is too long; the intervention of the protagonist's human environment seems to be too slow. The scenes are not incisive enough and not always convincing.

This book is not a good introduction to Dostoevsky's major works. His short novels, like `White Nights', `The Eternal Husband', `The Gambler', `Uncle's Dream', are real gems.

Only for Dostoevsky fans.
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