Nabokov and Banville: Hidden Stories in Despair and The Book of Evidence

Bibliographic title
Nabokov and Banville: Hidden Stories in Despair and The Book of Evidence
Periodical or collection
Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas
Periodical issue
v. 18, no. 1
Page(s)
101-124
Publication year
Abstract

References to Vladimir Nabokov’s texts are frequent in the works of contemporary British writers, but it is John Banville who seems to be engaged in an unceasing conversation with Nabokov. As this essay will argue, in Banville’s comments on Nabokov’s sophisticated structures the readers can glimpse a hint of Banville’s own practice. The essay discusses Banville’s celebrated ethical thriller, The Book of Evidence, which not only resembles Nabokov’s Despair and Lolita in its theme and structure, or borrows phrases and images from these books, but also creates intimations of a hidden story, which remains decipherable though not conclusive, thus reproducing Nabokov’s textual model. Using a heuristic comparative approach, this essay treats Despair as a case study of Nabokov’s method of concealment of a storyline beneath flamboyant narration, and then studies Banville’s novel with particular attention to the signals of unreliability, which, keeping in mind the deceptions of Despair, can be seen as evidence of untold story. The essay proposes a reinterpretation of the plot in The Book of Evidence by analogy with Despair, as well as a rereading of Despair under the influence of Banville’s novel.