Not a last word ...
Updated: Tuesday, 01 December, 2009 07:24:53pm
Not a last word worth havingYamini Lohia1 December 2009, 12:22am IST
The publication of Vladimir Nabokov's purported last 'novel' has caused no small amount of debate in literary circles. Nabokov, creator of works such as Lolita and Pale Fire, one of the greatest authors the world has ever known, was working on this book before he died. Because he was ill for a long time, he left instructions to his wife to destroy the index cards he'd scribbled his prose on in the event that he wasn't able to finish it before dying. His wife dithered over the cards for some time, and passed away before she could make the decision to burn them, thus enabling their son to cash in on his father's work against his express wishes.
Central to this contentious issue is the question of ownership. Who ultimately owns an author's works? Do we, the public, have the right to ignore the writer's wishes and consume his words in a way that he never intended us to do? While some will no doubt argue that the index cards offer a fascinating glimpse of one of the world's greatest literary minds at work, the fact of the matter is that he never intended for those words to be published in that form. In any case, Nabokov was so ill at the time he was writing this book that the only insight to be gleaned from his notes is how addled his mind had become towards the end of his life.
To consider this book amongst Nabokov's oeuvre would be like judging the merit of the Sistine Chapel from merely its blueprints. Laura might've been a good novel, or even a great one we'll never know. But it is now no more than a gimmick that will no doubt earn Nabokov's estate and his son a significant sum of money and no small amount of attention. Unfortunately, posterity will record Nabokov as having authored this last book, perhaps denting his position in the literary hall of fame. Most of us would want our final requests to be honoured and dealt with conscientiously. It is tragic that one of the most masterful authors of our time could not be accorded the same courtesy.
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