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[57] Dostoevsky vs. Saramago

Each of my two favorite authors wrote a novel with the same title–The Double. I reviewed Dostoevsky’s back in 2000 and recently re-read the novel:

Golyadkin is a government clerk who, decreed by fate, encounters a man who not only resembles him exactly but is also his namesake. Golyadkin’s own musings and foreshadowing along with his curious actions all afford hints and glimpses of a psychological realism that persists throughout the novel. On a stormy night in which Golyadkin tried to regain his composure after the hails of slights had descended him at a private party of the high society, he met his double. The double (who was subsequently being referred as the Golyadkin junior and the adversary), with bold effrontery, went out his own way to show Golyadkin impudence, insulted Golyadkin, and purloined Golyadkin’s papers in order to win approbation of the double’s superiors at work.

Like Notes From Underground, The Double is a close examination of human consciousness, through an unreliable narrator. I repeatedly raise the question whether this imposture really happens? Does the Golyadkin junior (the double) really exist in cold fact? What really happens at the end? Perhaps the real horror of Golyadkin senior (whom Dostoyevsky eventually refers him as our hero) is that he unconsciously knows his double simply being the side of his own nature that he disapproves, despises and fears? Regardless of the existence of the double, the imposter has simply trampled Golyadkin in the mire, perfidiously intruded him, and showed clearly that the senior and also the genuine Golyadkin is not genuine at all but a counterfeit, and that Golyadkin junior himself is the real one. The book is a portrait of the darker side of despicable personality that magnifies to the full actuality.

Saramago’s is more realistic. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is a history teacher: Middle-aged, divorced and in a relationship with a woman, he is bored with life. On the suggestion of a colleague, one night Máximo watches a video that changes everything. The video itself is a forgettable comedy, but the actor who plays the minor role of hotel clerk, is Afonso’s physical double. So he is fervishly renting videos and finding out about his double.

I have yet to finish the book–but like Saramago’s other works, The Double is a semi-allegory that breathes philosophical insights about our existence. Review coming soon.

5 Responses

  1. I wonder if Ing sells these books. Hmmmm…

  2. I’ve heard of Saramago’s book. It reminds me of the film “The Double Life of Veronique,” with a woman running into her double while on a trip.

  3. Reminds me of tales of people meeting their dopplegangers. It also reminds me of that song, “Captain of her Heart” by Double. Love that song… very haunting.

  4. Greg and Jef,
    A couple years ago in Bangkok I ran into a guy who hauntingly had very similar facial features as I–only that he was a monk!

  5. I haven’t read Saramago or Dostoevsy’s Double books yet. Mostly I’ve just been reveling in the fact that there are still people in the world that read and love the great Russian Novelists.

    Philip Roth has utilized the double repeatedly in his fiction — Operation Shylock being a notable example.

    I’ll pull Saramago off the shelf and give him a read. I loved Blindness.

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