Laura showed up at my door today. Well actually, a UPS guy. But he handed over a copy of The Original of Laura, Vladimir Nabokov's final, unfinished, fragmentary novel.
I had never ordered a book pre-publication before, without waiting for the reviews or (more likely) for it to go into paperback. This was different. This was Nabokov -- his first "new" work in more than 30 years. And, obviously, his last. I had to have it.
You've heard the story: he'd been working on Laura for a couple of years when he died in 1977. He left instructions that the unfinished work be burned, but his widow couldn't bring herself to do it. The manuscript (actually 138 file cards) lay in a bank vault for decades, until his last heir, son Dmitri, finally decided -- after much dithering -- to publish it.
I have yet to dive into actually reading the novel. After cutting open the plastic wrapper, and without even flipping through the pages, I went for a long walk. Because I appreciate that I, and millions of other devoted fans, will be contravening Nabokov's final wishes by reading Laura. That doesn't really bother me -- I mean, he's dead -- but I want to do so reverentially. Also, like a really fine wine, you want to let the book breathe a few hours.
Over the two days since publication, a number of reviewers have written that Laura should have been burned after all -- just not up to the high standards set by Lolita, Pale Fire or Ada, they say. Well, of course, sillies; he didn't even get to finish it. Anyway, I don't care. I didn't expect a half-finished draft of a novel to be as good as Lolita. After 30-plus years of no Nabokov, I'll eagerly devour even mediocre Nabokov. To be honest, I'd take crappy Nabokov.
This reviewer captured my feelings in approaching The Original of Laura. As he suggests, it's a gift: