NABOKV-L post 0018890, Tue, 1 Dec 2009 09:19:09 -0500

Another (Misbegotten) Treasure... Nabokov ...

Esther's Classic Literature Blog
By Esther Lombardi, Guide to Classic Literature

Another (Misbegotten) Treasure... Nabokov
Monday November 30, 2009

I love the idea that there are hidden literary treasures that are just waiting to be discovered. The Original of Laura was just published--unfinished and culled from Nabokov's hand-written notecards. But, would the author be rolling over in his grave?

AP, Globe & Mail, NPR, New York Books, The Guardian, Slate, and LA Times--all offer us the pieces of another great Nabokov puzzle. Why was his final, unfinished novel published (against his wishes--with questionable results)?

Of course, Nabokov is world famous (and controversial)--works like Lolita are acclaimed as world masterworks. So, we want to know everything about the man and his genius of words. We yearn for more. When they tell us we've reach the end (the final word), what can we do? We (as hungry readers) dare to ask for more. We sometimes even manage to reach (as it were) beyond the grave. We grasp at those tidbits of knowledge and understanding that were never intended for us to see. We never think to ask if there wasn't a VERY good reason for not releasing the manuscript in the first place. What about the author's wishes?

I should say: I haven't read the novel, so I can't address the quality of the fiction, nor the power of Nabokov's eloquence in this unfinished form. I'm sure (as many of the reviewers have already noted), there will be moments of brilliance in Nabokov's last unfinished manuscript. As Brian Boyd says, "Vladimir Nabokov's incomplete novel reminds us of the power of his story-telling."

Others have not been so kind in their assessments. Aleksandar Hemon (Slate) says: "At a mere 9,000 or so words, The Original of Laura is at best a short-story sketch, at worst a collection of 138 notecards (which Nabokov preferred to use to compose, leaving it to his wife, Vera, to type the manuscript), slapped together in just enough of a semblance of order to afford the reader a peek at a possible structure and a hint of the underlying ideas." He leaves little guess why he feels so strongly that the work should never have seen the publisher's light of day.

The reality of it is... We can talk about what could or should have been done with the manuscript, but I find myself strangely fascinated by this: yet another piece of the literary puzzle that's been left. After all, if Nabokov had wanted his work to be destroyed, why didn't he burn it? And, I can't help but think of that other famous quote from Nabokov: "The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible."

The page is not so blank anymore...

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