The Gambler – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Although most know Dostoyevsky for his most famous book, Crime and Punishment, he is also the author of the dark and intense (and much shorter!) novel, The Gambler.

We follow the story of Alexey Ivanovitch who is working as a tutor in the house of an imperious Russian general. Despite his attempts to break down the wall of the Russian established order, he ends up embroiled in the world of betting, and ultimately loss. Adding to his dark addiction is the passionate affair with Polina, the General’s stepdaughter who is as cruel as she is seductive.

Through the first-person narrative of Alexey, we are taken on a rollercoaster of love and gambling. Alexey is hopelessly in love with Polina, and it is she who encourages him to place his first bet at the town’s casino, for her, by reminding him of hs promise of undying love. It is here that he wins at the roulette table for the first time, although Polina is not grateful and is downright malicious towards him. The gambling, from here, however, does not stop.

With a host of complicated love affairs and tangled addictions, we see the dark underbelly and fatal attraction of gambling in Germany. Alexey himself is loveable yet obnoxious, cynical yet honest – a well-rounded character with an outspoken intensity that drawers the reader in.

The descriptions in Dostoyevsky’s The Gambler are wonderfully vivid, and it is through these that the author paints such a fantastically realistic, and frankly, rather bleak, image of the gambling scene and the world of addiction.

It is said that Dostoyevsky wrote The Gambler as a quick way to pay off his own gambling debts, while he was working on the much more famous Crime and Punishment. By using some of his own experiences, Dostoyevsky creates a very realistic image, although some critics say that it feels rushed and hurried at times as it is is a lot shorter than his usual work. Of course, the length of this novella is a lot less daunting than Crime and Punishment, for example, and as such, hopefully, makes it more accessible.

A fantastic story full of drama and passion, exploring the addiction of gambling and the effect that this can have on one’s life. Worth a read for gambling fans and foes alike, and anyone interested in an easy to digest novella about a different world.

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