It is a pity that the origin of the Gambler threatens to overshadow the story itself and I would avoid the temptation to read it as an autobiography given Dostoevsky’s own real-life struggle with gambling addiction. One should only delineate fictional from biographical elements in a book intended to be read as an autobiography and I am fairly certain Dostoevsky has never meant the Gambler to be read as one. The Gambler is more a story about human obsession and the gambler’s psyche and from the qualities of the archetypal ‘Gambler’ embodied in various characters, gambling is ugly. Thankfully, Dostoevsky does not attempt to moralise the story and leaves it to the reader to decide whether gambling ought to be justified or condemned. The dark humour is to be appreciated I actually liked the Gambler a lot more than expected though it was a bit of a roller coaster read. The first few chapters did nothing for me. I did not dig Alexei as the protagonist and I found his obsession with Polina to be pathetic. I might be less critical if Alexei had truly been willing to throw his life away for her like the men in ‘Zuleika Dobson’, but the fact that he is all talk and no action becomes a great source of frustration for me. The characters also appeared bipolar at times and I wasn’t quite sure what Dostoevsky wanted us to see in them. The foreign characters were rendered caricatures or parodies of themselves – surely the “wee Frenchman” is more than that – and the writing was beginning to feel shallow and the frequent use of French and Russian (or English for me since I read the translated version) was annoying as I had to keep flipping to the back of the book to understand the text. But 60 odd pages on, the story becomes a lot more engaging, probably for the same reasons I found the book frustrating at first. The first person POV in a way reveals more about Alexei than about the rest of the characters and the choice to make Alexei unreliable forces me to become a more active reader and to go beyond the narrative. The onus is on me to decipher the true nature of the characters. I don’t normally make marginal notes but I used the pencil a lot with the Gambler. Was Polina a femme fatale or was she just an unrequited love? What was the true nature of Alexei’s relationship to Polina? That sort of ambivalence is less apparent with less controversial characters such as Grandmama. With the rest like Polina and the General, I am not so sure. For instance, Grandmama seems to like Polina and as I actually think Grandmama to be quite sane and wise despite her brief gambling addiction, surely Polina cannot be all that Alexei says she is. The fact that Alexei is the narrator throughout and there is no alternative neutral third party POV means everything is up for discussion. The dark humour is to be appreciated but I did find it miserable to see Alexei remain the inveterate gambler in the end, reminiscing fondly about winning at the roulette table despite being well aware that he has become a lost man. Btw, the Grandmama is a riot and is reason enough to read the book.