These long anticipated literary mysteries never end in anything very significant ó one thinks of Harold Brodkeyís The Runaway Soul, falling totally flat after decades of sycophantic pre-publicity, or Truman Capoteís Answered Prayers, emerging in fragments in 1975, after 17 years of non-work, to scandal but no acclaim. (I wouldnít get your hopes up for the quality of anything J. D. Salinger has been keeping in his safe either if I were you).
The Original of Laura is the extended fragment which Vladimir Nabokov left incomplete at his death. These 138 index cards have, over the decades, become extremely famous. Very few people have seen them; the Nabokov scholar, Brian Boyd, apparently read them out to a small circle of experts in the 1990s. Dmitri Nabokov has been sitting on the manuscript since his fatherís death, occasionally suggesting that he will carry out his fatherís final wishes and destroy the manuscript, or, teasingly, that he already has. Meanwhile, well-meaning Nabokovians have been bombarding him with advice and peremptory demands on a regular basis. His decision to publish has taken everyone by surprise.
The Original of Laura as published by Penguin is, I must say, an astonishing object. The famous index cards are reproduced on press-out panels, with a typed transcription below. Should you wish to, you may remove the index cards to place in a box file of your own, leaving a deep square vacancy within the book, highly suitable for stowing a small bottle of whisky in the manner beloved of 1970s comic sketches.
Some of the psychological causes of the long delay of the appearance of this last statement are, in my view, apparent in Dmitri Nabokovís introduction, a bizarre document of pastiche and complacency. Into Dmitriís prose style enter Charles Kinbote and Humbert Humbert. He writes like a man who knows his fatherís novels better than anyone ever knew anotherís novels; he writes like Nabokov without, I am afraid, the talent: