Monday, November 16, 2009

The Original of Laura

(Dying is Fun)
By Vladimir Nabokov
Edited by Dmitri
278 pp. Alfred A.
Knopf. $35

“Good night, Nabokov,” said Vivian Nightbloom.

Or at least that’s probably what she should’ve said. Instead of leaving us with a charmingly ghostly oeuvre like The House on Haunted Hill—now we’re stuck with a sad incomplete Nabokovian House of Cards.

To be precise there are 138 cards to play with—each conveniently perforated like a Costco ad for our own personal little game of Solitaire.

Vivian Nightbloom was so clever—covering up for Clare Quilty in Lolita. Surely Vivian would have been just as clever at this latest little game of cards—playing bridge with the dead Vladimir Nabokov. The famously inventive and naughty author of Lolita—the rascally old St. Petersburg Pantomimic Person from Porlock himself. Dasvidaniya—to Kubla Khan & all that.

I can hear all of them now—the nervous anxious Nabokovians out there or rather in here. Fidgeting like rats behind the faded jaded wainscoting—chewing their fingernails behind the walls. They’re already lining up—to be the first to take a nibble and devour a tiny morsel—from the masters last masterpiece. A sort of has-been rehash of Lolitaesque chit-chat—and pillow-talk poshlust.

What is it about the Vladimir literati—that makes them so lewd and lascivious? Do they see themselves as somehow above it all—like James Mason sneering at Shelley Winters? Making fun of her Mexican schlock—while putting the make on her lovely hula-hoop daughter?

But it’s too late—it’s Après le Déluge.

After Lolita there is only a fable on the theme of rebellion. Nabokov’s morality? Let us revolt again and again, even if a best seller is unlikely—as we have not yet discovered the secret pain that prevents us from being happy.

So that even now, Brian Boyd has got into the act— opining eloquently in The Wall Street Journal: “The opening few words just blew me away. There’s a kind of narrative device that he’s never used before and that I don’t think anybody else has ever used before.”

I don’t think anybody really knows what Nabokov had in might for Laura—perhaps Vladimir and Sergei up in there in literary heaven are having a bitch fight now, kvetching about it. Who’s the Real Sebastian Knight, my dear—and who’s the real Laura?

I forgot about Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”—the way she begins her novel in medias res. What was that question her character answers—that we don’t get to hear? I know—let’s shuffle the cards and find out the real “pulp fiction” truth.

Those index cards are no big secret—we’ve known about them for years. Revising and deleting and making notes to himself—where would we be without them? But I’m sure “The Original of Lolita” would be a great disappointment—and I doubt if that Hollywood movie contract would have been very lucrative. At least not enough to retire from academe—and enjoy a relaxed productive retirement in the swanky Montreux Palace Hotel.

Playing with index cards and playing with words are two different things—it seems to me. “The Original of Laura” might be worth a game of cards—after all Nabokov was a chess enthusiast. He was obsessed with the game—and supposedly carried around a miniature chess set. With holes on the board for the pieces—the kings, queens and pawns. Perhaps “Laura” could be written like a William S. Burroughs cut-up novel—full of peacocks, pigeons and peanuts?

In either case, of course, Laura’s reception surely wouldn’t be the author’s fault. I’m willing to believe in a real novel—but not a last-minute masterwork. Something half-done in a hurry—with the author deceased. That’s kind of like that—sad campy bridge game in Sunset Boulevard.

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