NABOKV-L post 0018767, Thu, 12 Nov 2009 07:08:44 -0500

Nabokov's last novel is being published contrary to his wishes.
Is that right? ...

Nabokov's last novel is being published contrary to his wishes. Is that right?

By Oliver Marre Books Last updated: November 11th, 2009

Most of the world has to wait until next week to read the final published work of Vladimir Nabokov, which is to be released on 17 November. But the New York Times’s legendary reviewer, Michiko Kakutani has had a sneak preview of The Original Of Laura, which was unfinished on its author’s death in 1977. So what’s the verdict?

“In many respects, the release of a rudimentary version of his last novel does a disservice to a writer who deeply cherished precision and was practiced in the art of revision,” writes Kakutani. “Yet, at the same time, these bits and pieces of “Laura” will beckon and beguile Nabokov fans, who will find many of the author’s perennial themes and obsessions percolating through the story of Philip, an “enormously fat creature” with “ridiculously small feet, ” and his wildly promiscuous wife, Flora, who seems to have been the inspiration for a fictional character named Laura.”

It’s an intriguing piece of literary history, without a doubt. And one which may awaken the debates surrounding Nabokov’s most famous work, Lolita. For Laura, like that novel’s eponymous protagonist, is an alluring young women with a sexually tense relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, named Hubert H Hubert (a relative, in literary terms, of Lolita’s Humbert Humbert, then).

Kakutani reports flashes of typically brilliant word play (remember that as well as Lolita, Nabokov’s pen brought us Pale Fire), but the fact remains that Nabokov did not want this book to be published. He made his wife promise to burn it if he died without having finished it. His son, Dmitri, who authorised publication after being wooed by a cabal of international publishers (Knopf in the USA, Penguin over here), says Nabokov would not “have opposed the release of ‘Laura’ once ‘Laura’ had survived the hum of time this long.”

That might be taking things a bit too far, but I am inclined to think it’s good news that he has disregarded his father’s wishes. Nabokov’s many fans can now enjoy a final flicker of the master’s breath. Do you agree? Or should the publishing industry (never mind the family) obey an author’s dying request to destroy his manuscript?

Tags: Michiko Kakutani, The Original of Laura, Vladimit Nabokov

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