Nabokov didn't finish The Original of Laura, so we'll never know how good it might have been – and that's the key to its tantalising appeal
"For all sad words of tongue or pen / the saddest are these: 'it might have been!'" John Greenleaf Whittier's lines seem particularly resonant this week as, after a 30-year wait, Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura is finally publilshed. It takes its place among the ranks of other posthumously-published unfinished novels such as F Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, Mervyn Peake's Titus Alone, Truman Capote's Answered Prayers, and Charles Dickens's The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Putting aside the ethical debate as to whether any of these novels should have seen the light of day (a little more acute in the case of Nabokov, as he specifically requested The Original of Laura to be destroyed), the amount of interest generated by such titles suggests an enduring fascination with the Great Unfinished Novel.
Now I know the addition of the word Great here is a tad presumptuous, but surely this is what we're hoping for? We've come to terms with the all-too-likely possibility that the GUN in question will not bear close comparison with the author's finished works, but we still like to think that had the GUN been completed it would have been able to hold its own in their company. After all, no one wants to spend time reading a MUN (Mediocre Unfinished Novel) or a DRUN (Downright Rotten Unfinished Novel). Though no doubt there are more of these out there than we'd care to admit.
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