CRITICISM: Pnin by Vladimir   

Evolving out of a series of short stories originally published in the New Yorker between 1953 and 1955, the book has been criticized for appearing more as a series of discrete sketches than a novel. This criticism is unfair, however, as—in keeping with Nabokov’s concern for thematic rather than plot-driven cohesion—the novel returns to Pnin’s inability to feel physically or linguistically “at home” in North American culture. Above all, the unmistakably deft Nabokovian style, with its extended linguistic digressions and offbeat humour, make this novel a comic masterpiece and a real joy. ~ Juliet Wightman - 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

I have to take issue with this idea that Nabokov’s “concern for thematic rather than plot-driven cohesion” excuses the fragmentary nature of this novel. Pnin is very much a Nabokovian novel: comic, tragic, lyric, and satirical in it’s politics. All of these are themes that one frequently encounters when reading a novel by Vladimir Nabokov. I accept that Pnin is firmly in that canon. 

What I do not accept is that there was a decision to put these fragmentary pieces together an label them a “novel”. Had this been labelled “Pnin: A comic fragment.” I would have enjoyed the book much more. As it stands, it’s not really a novel, neither is it a collection of short-stories (as that is not how the reader encounters this text). It is some bastard-hybrid. Pnin seems like an exercise in writing. Something you write to sharpen your skills. There is literary value to the work but that does not necessarily make it something enjoyable or worthy of praise. Especially as I feel much of that praise is based on Nabokov and his reputation and less the quality of this specific work. Feel free to disagree with me. 


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