A husband smashes a paperweight on the hand of his nympo wife as she rumages through his desk. The brutality is not payback for her affairs, but a warding off of her perceived attempt to snoop into his unfinished “poisonous opus.”
Are we, the morbid readers of a piece which the master never finished and, as the legend goes, he gave instructions to destroy on his death bed, the ones who really deserve the bruised knuckles? Many who shell out full price for this thick hardcover which contains less than four thousand words will no doubt feel a certain feeling of being shafted. The decision to publish photographic images of Nabokov’s original index cards side-by-side with a typeset version is kind of charming. Is this a way of adding more pages to the big hardback???
The novel is about a fat, aging professor who copes with death by turning it into a sexual game and who copes with his wife’s serial infidelities by writing a humiliating novel about her.
As a side project, the professor is deconstucting, “The Interpretation of Dreams.” We get plot and character in fragments. Yet the story is full of surging emotions. These are disturbed and quite often really nasty folks. One can still care for the characters nevertheless, despite them and despite the fact that the novel is barely a first draft. Less is more, and with Nabokov nothing is more than less.
The story behind the book’s journey to print overshadows the actual story in the book, which itself is a unique literary achievement. In the introduction, Dimitri Nabokov explains the curse of his inheritance: does he go ahead and destroy the text or does he publish it. In the end, he decides for our benefit: he is no longer going to deal with the debate, no more being hounded by academic stalkers. He has made us all the caretaker of his curse. We even get our own set of index cards…