Book: Look at the Harlequins!
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Published: 1974 (McGraw Hill)
The more I read of this, the more I wondered if Nabokov was just fucking with me. Is it his own memoir, is it a satirical memoir of a writer very much like him only exaggerated, is it a novel in the form of said exaggerated memoir, and if so, what’s the difference between those last two?
I still don’t really have an answer seeing as how the book is called “a new novel by the author of…” on its book jacket, offers all other Library of Congress classification info except novel/memoir distinction on the copyright page, and constantly has the protagonist call himself by Nabokov’s name yet reference only novel titles that I’m almost certain Nabokov didn’t use while referring constantly to this here narrative as a memoir.
Why does any of this matter when the writing is pleasantly zany (it begins “I met the first of my three or four wives…”), witty, and eloquent in the slightly baroque manner that crashes and burns in hands any less delicate than Nabokov’s? His rambles through his love lives and professional progress are entertaining and revealing without much of a central theme but with plenty of self-depreciation disguised as arrogance that gradually lets you realize just exactly how seriously he isn’t taking himself. And he still knows when to reign that in to show quieter, genuine emotions (not a whole lot, but it’s there when it needs to be, like when his first wife died).
I just want to know how or if he writes his fiction differently than his self-examining. The New York Times review from 1974 tells me this was Nabokov’s last novel published before his death in 1977. It’s classified as a fictional autobiography – okay. So that makes total sense, and as far as this Constant Reader is constantly concerned, it’s a bookshelf-worthy success, right between my David Mitchell and Phillip Pullman.
I bought this at last year’s South Caroline Book Festival (three for a dollah, y’all: that’s also where I got A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again and that giant-ass hard sci-fi anthology, so I AM MAKING THE OLD BOOK PILE PROGRESS HOO-YAH) because I wanted to read Nabokov. Ideally Lolita, but that wasn’t on sale there.
Yes, I realize I could go to Barnes and Noble or the Books-a-Million across the street from my Barnes and Noble or the stacks on the other side of the wall from my office or not leave my apartment and find this on Amazon, but two things:
- Found books are more fun.
- Lolita sounds creepy. I know it’s literature and I want everybody to write about whatever they want and not get censored. But it’s still creepy and I will have to prepare myself more than when I read about other stuff.