The Magician's Doubts: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction
As a child in Russia, Vladimir Nabokov enjoyed conjuring: “I loved doing simple tricks — turning water into wine, that kind of thing.” In this engrossing book Michael Wood explores the blend of arrogance and mischief that makes Nabokov such a fascinating and elusive master of fiction. Wood argues that Nabokov is neither the aesthete he liked to pretend to be nor the heavy-handed moralist recent critics make him. Major works like Pnin, Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada appear in a new light, but there are also chapters on earlier works, like the Real Life of Sebastian Knight; on selected short stories; and on the translation of Eugene Onegin, as well as detailed discussions of Nabokov’s ideas of literature, memory, pity, and pain.
The book comes fully to terms with Nabokov’s blend of playfulness and seriousness, delving into the real delight of reading him and the odd disquiet that lurks beneath that pleasure. Wood’s speculations spin outward to illuminate the ambiguities and aspirations of the modern novel, and to raise the question of how we uncover “the author” in a work, without falling into the obvious biographical traps. The Magician’s Doubts slices through the dustier conventions of criticism and never loses sight of the emotional and sensual pleasure of reading.
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