With The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov’s final novel, now set to be published, and NPR re-running a feature today on Lolita, I thought it might be a good time to share photos of my Nabokov collection (after the cut below).
Nabokov is and probably always will be my favorite fiction writer. Why? He was a master prose stylist but also created incredibly subtle characterizations. He often deployed satire and humor, but it was always anchored by tragedy and by depth. He was unafraid of using experimental structures, but he did so because his characters demanded it. He did not shy away from showing cruelty and violence–and understood the necessity of doing so. It’s for this reason that his style works, because it supports something much rougher and less polished underneath. Most of his novels demand a second, a third, a fourth, read–and the books change every time you read them. Some day I hope to have the time re-read Nabokov from beginning to end. Along with doing a biography of Angela Carter, one of my dream projects would be to do a book on Nabokov, focusing on my favorites among his works. (I think I’ve read every major piece of criticism on Nabokov by now.)
The photo above, by the way, is by Jacob McMurray for my SF Site piece on lost books. At the time I suggested Martin Amis might finish The Original of Laura:
Nabokov intended to complete this novel after finishing Look at the Harlequins!, but ill health prevented him from doing so. For many years, all Nabokovites had to sustain them were such Laura notes as “Inspiration. Radiant insomnia. The flavour and snows of beloved alpine slopes. A novel without an I, without a he, but with the narrator, a gliding eye, being implied throughout.” None of which revealed much about the plot. In 1999, a friend of the Nabokovs — a roving entomologist on a Fulbright — found a series of notecards hidden in the casing of a Nabokov butterfly case donated to Cornell University upon his death. The notecards sketched out a preliminary draft of The Original of Laura. Dmitri Nabokov then enlisted the help of Martin Amis to complete the novel. In that a first person narrator replaces Nabokov’s “gliding eye” and that Amis inserted several seedy characters and changed the setting of the novel to London’s underbelly, one might wonder if it would have been better had the notecards remained with the butterflies.
Of all the photos below, the one that is most frustrating to me–if a photograph can frustrate–is the one showing Nabokov’s Russian translation of Alice in Wonderland. It would be wonderful to know Russian and be able to read his version, since I imagine it is significantly changed from the original to fit his native language.
And then some interiors from McSweeney’s chapbook on Nabokov’s covers…
And I don’t know how I forgot about these: