For the third post in a row, I’m obliged to report ’not bad, but far from the author’s best’. This one just didn’t engage me the way I had been expecting, and while the characters, indiviudal moments and overall writing were great I felt a strong resistance to buying into the plot. This work was a lot warmer and less grim than Lolita or the like, but perhaps partly in consequence it also felt like it had lower stakes, lacking real urgency. Focused on the life of a Russian emigre, describing a type of imagined biographical aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. Romance, travel and a type of distorted coming of age also feature heavily.
The story is at its best in little details of the time, bringing in a sense of the quiet angst and humor involved with a life on the magins of big historical events.
The characterization feels authentically incomplete, presenting both solid personality details as well as a type of internal tension and flux that promotes a more active personality. As always with Nabokov the prose is first rate, and a lot of people have found the basic story more engaging than I did. It feels like the sort of book that has all the elements one should like, and I’d recommend it, but with the reservation that for whatver ineffable reason it wasn’t fully enjoyable for me. This review is ending up being more a critique of my own reading experience than the book itself, but I’m left unable to just sign off on it in the straightforward fashion on some level I feel the book deserves.
Worse than: Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
Better than: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte