DOSTOEVSKY'S LAST NIGHT by Cristina Peri Rossi


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A sluggish, underimagined short novel--the first work to appear in English by a Uruguayan writer now living in Spain--invokes the image of the great Russian novelist as a precursor of the bias‚ journalist whose gambling obsession is its surface subject. Like the helpless Dostoevsky squandering his energies over the tables at Baden-Baden, Rossi's Jorge--who seems to have wandered in on sabbatical from an old Antonioni movie--celebrates the psychology of addiction as expressive of a more vital spirit than most ordinary mortals possess. Unlike his fascinating exemplar, Jorge is a self-satisfied bore, a vain, horny narcissist with whom imaginative empathy seems impossible. The first-person narrative focuses only sporadically on his passion for gambling and the details of various games of chance (which are intrinsically interesting). Instead, Jorge is permitted to lavish redundant attention on his assignments for a mindlessly trendy magazine and his flawed relationships with several women: an unapproachable former mistress, his distracted mother, an accommodating married woman (whose wealthy husband takes brutal revenge for Jorge's dalliance with her), and, worst of all--worse than you can imagine--his psychoanalyst Lucia, an imperturbable feminine presence whose ostensibly risqu‚ and witty exchanges with her churlish patient never rise above, and often not even to, the level of vacuous generalization. Apart from a few succinctly lyrical descriptive passages (quite effectively translated), the only relief from the encompassing ennui is provided by the figure of Jorge's ""director"" (i.e., editor), a world-class hypochondriac who sees threats to his health and sanity everywhere around him. One wonders what he'd make of Dostoevsky's Last Night.

Pub Date: July 17th, 1995
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Picador/St. Martin's