This is a compelling novel about The Gambler, Alexey Ivanovitch, who is working in the household of a Russian General – he was only promoted to this rank on his retirement – who is staying in a hotel in the fictional town of Roulettenburg. The others in the General’s party include the Frenchman Dr Grieux, The Englishman Mr Astley, The General’s niece Polina, and a French lady called Mademoiselle Blanche who is hoping to marry The General but only when he becomes richer than he currently is. Along with The Gambler they frequent the town and its casino where Alexey wins some money only to lose it all and more.
The General is hoping to hear from Moscow that his Auntie, Antonida Vassilyevna Tarasyevitchev called Granny by most people, has passed away leaving him her considerable inheritance. That is what everyone is waiting for until one day she arrives unannounced with a considerable entourage and installs herself at a hotel. She has lost the use of her legs and is carried everywhere by chair. They make their considerable presence felt in the casino where Granny becomes addicted to betting on the zero on the roulette table. She wins and wins and goes back again to play after a rest but then loses more than she won. The General and his party can see his future draining away in front of their eyes.
All this time Alexey Ivanovitch has failed to understand Polina has fallen for him. Instead, he’s bet on Mademoiselle Blanche falling for him. In order to help Polina and The General pay a debt to Dr Grieux, Alexey goes to the casino and has an extraordinary run of luck allowing him to win four times the debt. Polina in a fit of pride declines the money so Alexey heads to Paris to allow Mlle Blanche to set herself up so she can marry The General.
There are a number of plot points that aren’t expanded upon – Alexey insults the Baron and Baroness Burmerhelm at the behest of Polina and although The General sacks Alexey from his entourage, there’s never any comeback from The Baron. Alexey also threatens to fight Dr Grieux but never does.
Another item for traditionalists of ‘how to write a novel’ is that the appearance of The General is not described until Page 163 and the rules of roulette are only briefly explained on Page 140.