A book I’ve tried to read several times, but didn’t get into. I’m not sure why, having sat down with it with some more focus I found it extremely readable, entertaining and fast paced. It’s also quite funny, and overall captures the lighter expression of life with a lot more substance and general engagement than Glory did. The book is all about the titular professor Pnin, with his odd manerisms and only partial successful adaptation to the United States, and the array of odd encounters he has. It’s clearly aiming for less ambitious and more surface story than Lolita or Pale Fire, and on that grounds it succeeds, making a fun, interesting and well written book. At the same time, by the end it doesn’t seem to have offered as much of insight or underlying meta-drama as I’ve come to expect with Nabokov. The degree to which it’s autobigoraphical may be debated, on the whole certainly less than Transparent Things, and it should be said that this factor doesn’t inhibit the presentation of deep intimacy with the subject. That’s what being a skilled writer means, one can convey more than just their own life with utter conviction.
Off and on in this novel I was reminded of an East European professor I know, not quite as quirky or generally off beat but having some similar issues in incomprehensibility with American youth, alienation from modern society and less than fully effective academia. At times this worked in favor of my pleasure in the account, making it easier to sympathize with him and his perspective. At other times it undercut it, in points where the story went for comedy and I was reminded of the professor, and the way I’ve generally found his situation rather sad.
Better than: Glory by Vladimir Nabokov
Worse than: Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov