Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Original of Laura

Vladimir Nabokov is in my top three favorite authors right after Michael Chabon and John Steinbeck. The first book of his I read was Lolita and since then I've read all of his short stories ("The Vane Sisters" having a profound affect on me) and finished reading Ada not that long ago. Nabokov has a unique voice that no other author has or ever will. The Original of Laura, written during the last three years of Nabokov's life, has all the markings of a great Nabokov tome however, since the novel is unfinished it leaves the reader (or at least me) greatly dissatisfied.

To clarify, Laura is far from unfinished. Unfinished, to me, means some form of cohesion and editorial input. This "novel" doesn't really have either. The story is left almost exactly as the author left it with asterisks or brackets placed throughout the book giving further clarity for what Nabokov was writing. The story was copied directly from notecards Nabokov wrote on and from what I could tell, only the first chapter had been completed with various other chapters in random stages of incompleteness. While there are references to plot threads and people that have made Nabokov's works famous (underage sex, family scandal and a oddly reminescent character named Hubert H. Hubert), there is no soul to the work although there is heart.

I borrowed the book from my local library and when I realized it was an unfinished work, I figured the novel would be very thin but instead there was a 300-page monster waiting for me. The way the book was printed is unique in that the book reproduces Nabokov's notecards at the top of every page while the text below the card reprints in type what the cards say. The left hand side of every page is blank and, here's the really odd part, the cards are perforated so you can pull the cards out and rearrange them ("just like Nabokov might have done"). I worry what this kind of feature will do to library copies of the book not just through bad eggs pulling the cards out but just normal wear and tear.

When Nabokov died, he specifically asked for the cards to be burned which is something his wife didn't do and, obviously, something his son, Dmitri, didn't do. Laura will either become a huge literary event or an example of adhering to an old man's dying wish. I don't know if the book should've been published, I think, had I been in Dmitri's position, I also would've published the cards. The book, from what people had gathered, is about Laura, who is married to an increasingly unattractive man named Phillipp Wild. A book about Laura has been published by one of her former lovers and it creates kind of a scandal. The book also ruminates a lot about growing older and death which leads us to the subtitle: Dying Is Fun. Death has pock-marked this story with Phillipp ranting about how his body is falling apart and he's getting closer to death. Given the time period of these writings, one could allude that in certain paragraphs Nabokov himself has possessed Wild when he goes off on a tangent about death.

This book is not for everyone. While I will suggest Lolita, Ada, Pale Fire and his short stories to other people wanting to read Nabokov, The Original of Laura is a book specifically for true Nabokov fans and literary enthusiasts.