Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0005209, Sun, 25 Jun 2000 09:21:46 -0700

Re: Nab Forum-- NYTimes Forum Select Boyd's Pale Fire (fwd)
**** For my comment, see below. GD***

From: Jennifer Parsons <jdparsons@home.com>

I agree with Tom Bolt!

While there is nothing particularly insulting about the word "quirky"
when used to describe some small whimsical/odd/eccentric thing, it is
unfortunate that good Mick Sussman of the NYT used it to describe the
whole of Boyd's amazing book on PALE FIRE, simply because he'd heard
second hand about its "unexpectedness" (?) likely from the NYT skimming
reviewer of that book, also rather condescending in his description of
book as "comical", etc.

"Quirky" - is a neat word and probably very popular with
critics/journalists of various kinds currently, as quick, hip, way to
describe rather complicated things.

It has its place, obviously, and is a wonderfully descriptive word
meaning "tricky flourish" "quibble, quip" "twist" - etc - but hardly
appropriate here, as description of Boyd's deep, scholarly probe.

Philo's "half mad" "half brilliant" at least does the book proper
justice (though I would say 7/8 brilliant, 1/8 "mad.")


*** I appear to be in a definite minority here, but I see nothing wrong
with describing a "deep, scholarly probe" as "quirky." But then, to me,
"quirky" is good -- it's interesting, provocative, and unexpected: and
Brian Boyd's book is all that. After all, it is a rather unusual and
"abrupt twist" (one dictionary's definition of "quirky") for a critic
to reverse his own earlier interpretation of a novel. He also does it in a
way that is not commonly practiced in academic books these days by
delaying the ultimate new "discovery" until the final part of the book and
thus keeping his readers in suspense. Furthermore, Nabokov himself is
obviously plenty "quirky" -- and I suspect would take this description as
a compliment rather than a putdown, because this is precisely the effect
he often sought to achieve. GD***