On the evidence of what has survived that is doubtful
Nabokov mayhave had Dying Is Fun in mind as an alternative title forThe Original of Laura. Understandably, Dmitri Nabokovbelieves that the fragments he and his mother failed to destroywould have turned into a masterpiece had his father lived longenough to complete the work. On the evidence of what has survivedthat is doubtful. The bulk of this material seems little differentfrom Nabokov's last published works: Last Things, Look atthe Harlequins! and even the longer and much more intricateAda. The baroque turns of phrase, the puns and the languagegames are still there, but like the final works 8The Original of Laura lacks the verve and extravagance ofNabokov's three masterpieces: Pnin, Lolita anle Fire. For all that, one set of cardscontains extraordinary and extraordinarily disturbing material. Inthese the fat, ungainly Philip Wild imagines how he can mentallyobliterate himself, making his toes and fingers drop off forinstance, by concentration and effort of will. These cards werewritten, it seems, during Nabokov's last days in hospital, when hewas suffering excruciating pain in his toes, a torture made all theworse by the nursing staff's heavyhanded attempts at pedicure. These cards where Nabokov's characteristically neat andprecise handwriting deteriorates into a scrawl contain adarkly ambiguous account of selfannihilation, suicide through theimagination. Some of Dmitri Nabokov's shadowy statements in theintroduction carry troubling hints about the last weeks of hisfather's life. These few cards were the reason, I suspect, why Nabokov wanted all of them to be destroyed. Rosetta Stone As it turns out, they were not destroyed, and here they arepublished in a large, beautifully designed and expensive volume.Inevitably, Dmitri Nabokov cites Max Brod's refusal to destroy hisfriend Franz Kafka's manuscripts after Kafka's untimely death.There is a difference, nevertheless. Whatever the ethicalimplications of his actions, Brod gave the world two substantialtexts, The Trial and The Castle, seminal works of20thcentury literature. The Original of Laura, both insignificance and extent, represents something quite different: aninteresting footnote to the large body of Nabokov's publishedwritings in Kafka's case only a few short works werepublished in his lifetime. How to present this skimpy material must have provided a fewheadaches for the publishers. The solution they came up with isastonishingly extravagant. Each card is reproduced in exactfacsimile on the top half of a page. The text sometimesonly a line or two is printed underneath. Because Nabokovwrote on only one side of his cards, the left side of almost everyopening of this volume (the verso page in bibliographical parlance)is blank though occasionally there is a smudge or a largeX. Most of the book is printed on cardboard. The facsimile of eachcard is surrounded by perforations. A note advises that you canremove the cards and shuffle them, as Nabokov used to do. I am notsure why anyone would want to do that but you can never tell.Perhaps they could come in handy as a Christmas party game. Andrew Riemer is the Herald's chief bookreviewer.
Post new comment