When he wasn’t busy writing some of the world’s finest classic literature, Fyodor Dostoyevsky was busy touring European gambling halls. Like many gamblers, he lost a lot of francs. And, like many gamblers, he seemed to love riding the edge of luck and ruin.
In fact, The Gambler was written as the result of a bizarre wager in which Dostoyevsky promised someone that if he didn’t deliver a novel by a date certain, that person would have the right to publish Dostoyevsky’s novels for nine years without paying the famous writer. If I am reading the history correctly, he ended up pounding out this book, and he ended up marrying the stenographer who helped him. All in all, it was a good bet!
The Gambler is written in the first person and seems to be somewhat autobiographical. It is half gambling fever and half parlor intrigue. Some cultural nuances relating to the implications of stolen glances and walks in the park are lost on me, but are exciting nonetheless. In that respect the book reminded me of certain Victorian novels.
The plot centers around Alexei Ivanovitch, a tutor and hanger-on of an older Russian General. The General has taken an entourage to Germany to gamble, and to wait on his ancient mother’s death so that he can inherit her considerable wealth, marry a saucy Frenchwoman, and enjoy high society. Ivanovitch is too reckless and careless to fit into high society, but he’s a hell of a gambler and that seems to be the reason that he’s tolerated. His lust for the thrill of high-stakes wagering bleeds into his social life. Drama ensues.
How a Russian author from 150 years ago who spoke a different language and lived in a different culture could write a feverish novel that grips a Texan in 2015 is beyond me. Somehow, the author did it. If you like gambling and/or parlor intrigue, I wager that you will enjoy the book. (Nailed it!)