I have myself a complicated relationship with Ada (though I like it a lot better than Pale Fire; my own pick for best book is definitely Lolita). I love the novel's first half or so, but as it goes on, except for certain parts such as Lucette's death, the book just sort of goes on. Part of it is philosophical. I don't really understand the formulation of "genius" in the book. The way Van writes it to be a "genius" is mostly to be a pain in the ass who to, quote Dickens, pours a gallon of contempt over everyone and who is sure that having a huge Ego and a certain flair with language, combined with being practically useless, because being useful would somehow be mediocre, is what makes him really great. Self love as complete and requited as this, to echo another Nabokov character, kind of sets the teeth on edge, but it does go with how I took the story. I like the idea that the book is a kind of flawed scientific report on the real world or Terra viewed through a flawed perspective, as all ultimately are all perspectives--that's a neat idea. I had always taken the book to be an extended folie a deux, a willful delusion which Van tries unsuccessfully to live inside with the help of Ada, who he has forced to help construct its ever cracking walls, hence the fakeness or literariness, and the bewildering overlapping anachronisms, "mistakes" in the continuity of scenes, and asides which refer to the dreamlike quality of moments and details. It is as if Nabokov had taken one of the central ideas of Pale Fire, that of reading what "really" happened through the narration, such as what a pathetic figure Kinbote cuts, and making the skein of the prose much much more complex and without the easy to follow outside pointers so that it becomes at points for all intents and purposes impossible to fully "see" whatever Van's "actual" experience was, to pry it apart from his vain and venal fantasy of himself. I think the reason is to show a kind of paradox which I don't fully understand. There is, I think Nabokov suggests, a real and terrible world which thwarts and cuts down Van. So Van erects a fantasy that skews the "real" place. Yet still that fantasy world becomes skewed by whatever "actual" circumstances spawned him and threatens to thwart him again even in his dream world!--then at the end he pole vaults over his problems and lives happily ever after. Material "reality" has lost, died, faded away, and now, in the long run, all that remains is the fantasy left behind. In the end strangely, the made up world turns out to be more durable than reality. No matter how time gets away from us, or even from Van, the fantasy he created is always there to be lived through again. That's how I took it.

--- On Sat, 10/4/08, NABOKV-L <NABOKV-L@HOLYCROSS.EDU> wrote:
Subject: [NABOKV-L] THOUGHTS: Terra and Antiterra and ADA
Date: Saturday, October 4, 2008, 10:58 AM

I recently finished Ada, or Ardor by VN and while some of the book was very
interesting, it is part of the downward trend in books I have read by Nabokov. 
(Pale Fire being the best by far.)

Ada makes numerous references to Russian and Western European literature that I
never even heard of.  However, the one motif I was able to pick up on was the
Terra/Antiterra doubling.  After finishing the book and trying to find ways of
understanding it, this is the image that kept returning.

I have found that the Terra/Antiterra doubling works similar to the unreliable
narrator which is used throughout VN's work.  This works through the form of
the novel.  Ada is essentially the memoir of someone living on Antiterra.  In
the course of the narrative we learn more about the parallel plane of Terra
which shares much more in common with our own Earth.  Things still seem quite
different there though.  My contention is that Terra is in fact Earth (gasp!)
but the method by which Van and others access information about Terra is a
greatly flawed science.  Back on Earth we are accessing a document that reports
information from Antiterra.  The final document (Ada) is just as flawed through
a similar method of access and, as it were, translation.

Has anyone else noticed this?  What do you think?  Can anyone illuminate the
text for me in another way?

CM Carnot

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