Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen reminds me of Nabokov
Lewis Jones

Despite its drab prison setting and lonely, dysmorphic heroine, this creepily funny first novel shows immense promise, says Lewis Jones [   ]

Moshfegh’s control of tone and pace is masterly, her ventriloquism impeccable, and the period detail unobtrusively spot-on. I was occasionally reminded of Nabokov and Lena Dunham, among others, but her voice is her own, and immensely promising.

The Spectator march 2016




Vladimir Nabokov, Scientific Genius

by Laura Marsh. April 5,2016  

In the spring of 1970, a 71-year-old Vladimir Nabokov gave chase to a rare, orange butterfly on the slopes of Mount Etna, sweating and panting, his lips “white rimmed with thirst and excitement.” Tucking the specimen into the inside pocket of his jacket, he told a New York Times reporter, “It is a feeling I usually get at my writing desk.” [   ]

In Fine Lines, a new book about Nabokov’s scientific work, entomologist Robert Dirig makes a pilgrimage to one of the novelist’s collecting spots in the Smoky Mountains, where he sees for himself the “glorious blooms of flowering dogwood” and hears rustling in the branches. In another essay in the volume, four biologists compare current scientific methods with Nabokov’s, expressing excitement to “have walked in Vladimir Nabokov’s footsteps, both literal and conceptual.” [   ]

If you place his novels and memoirs side by side with his lepidopterological studies, one thing is clear: Nabokov was interested in telling very different stories about butterflies in each. As a lepidopterist, he was interested in stories that spanned vast, geological time periods, informed by fine-grained empirical observations. But in his novels and stories, butterflies flit in and out of the narrative, either to adorn a moment of impossible desire or as flickering omens of doom—as in the case of the red admiral that lands on John Shade’s arm before he is assassinated in Pale Fire. They are creatures of the ever-disappearing present, hardly existing for any concrete purpose at all; their wings bear the heavy load of subjectivity. In their elusiveness, their intricacy, they embodied the Nabokovian aesthetic; they were, as he wrote in Speak, Memory, an emblem of the “non-utilitarian delights” he sought in art.[  ]

Nabokov himself, meanwhile, seemed to take pride in discouraging indulgent readings of his butterfly work. When he died in 1977, he was working on a new book with a scientific focus, an illustrated history of Butterflies in Art, ranging from ancient Egypt to the Renaissance. It was to include works by Hieronymus Bosch, Jan Brueghel, Albrecht Dürer, and many others, though he complained their depictions were imprecise and ignorant. He traveled across small towns in Italy, France, and the Netherlands, asking curators to call up more accurate but little-known still lifes from their stacks. “That in some cases the butterfly symbolizes something,” he insisted, “lies utterly outside my area of interest.” 

Laura Marsh is a story editor at the New Republic.



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