Vladimir Nabokov is one of my favourite writers, amongst some of the other Russian grand masters, namely because of his manipulation of language, word play and style. Nabokov was born in St Petersburg Russian in 1899 and died in 1977 in Switzerland, having emigrated to America inbetween. He translated most of his Russian works himself as he didn’t trust that others would be able to do so faithfully. He wasn’t a man without fault; he was a complete snob towards women writers and although he praised some works written by females, on the whole he was prejudiced against them, which obviously reflects poorly on him. Some of his unique attributes though included having synesthesia, elements of which you see in his work, and which make for an interesting dimension to his writing.
The only book of his I couldn’t bring myself to read was Lolita. The subject matter is too horrific but I did read numerous reviews and the synopsis so that I could be well informed of what the book is actually about. Knowing that Lolita is written from the viewpoint of the paedopest makes me even more determined not to read it, as going into the mind of a sick psychopath just doesn’t appeal. He also solipsises his victim so not only is he an unreliable narrator from the outset, we realise we will never really know what happened, and never hear Lolita’s side of the story. This in my view makes the work incredibly dangerous and I shudder to think some wierdos will read it as some sort of justification for paedophilia – there is NO justification for it, on any level, anywhere, ever. It is sick, it is evil and Lolita is just another victim, not a child who was mentally mature and able to make decisions of such nature herself, the way the narrator tries to portray. Of all his works Nabokov himself was most proud of Lolita because he felt he had skillfully written the story from the viewpoint of a sick-minded narrator who was so distant from himself. However, even Nabokov’s original publisher assumed he must be a paedophile himself and that the book was effectively a diary – something that Nabokov denied. This awful book aside there are plenty of others to get stuck into (but this is the only one people ever seem to talk about). Try Pale Shade or one of his short stories.
I recently re-read Symbols & Signs (or Signs & Symbols depending on which version you read). A sad, and intriguingly ended short story, about a Russian Jewish couple after the holocaust. Nabokov said in an interview that he hated symbolism. I’m sure he was being facetious because his work is rife with symbolism. In this book (erm, the title gives it away), he peppers the text with code. Initially, I thought the reader is supposed to become so wound up in deciphering the code that they are left with feelings of “referential mania” themselves but let me know what you think. And tell me what you think happened at the end of the story! You can read it here for free: www.newyorker.com/magazine/1948/05/15/symbols-and-signs/amp
Leave a comment if you have read any of Nabokov’s work