I want to get more into Russian literature, but I don’t want to launch straight into War and Peace. I began last year with The Master & Margarita. 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.