VN: The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov by Andrew Field
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VN: The Life and Art of Vladimir Nabokov

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Solid, warm, lively and readable life and critique by the author of Nabokov: His Life in Art and Nabokov: His Life in Part. Had this book been offered for his postmortal comment, Nabokov would have been hopping mad, having spent much of his adult life railing against biography, Freud, and anything that might invade his sacrosanct privacy. Field thinks that after Pale Fire, Nabokov's third and last masterpiece (the others are The Gift and Lolita), Nabokov turned into a monster of narcissim and during his long Swiss residence produced only three ""pseudo-Olympian"" works of self-contemplation: the confounding Ada, the worthwhile failure Transparent Things and the quarrelsome, wearied, failing Look to the Harlequins/. This failing off may be reflective of Nabokov's secret heavy drinking in his last years (during a BBC-TV interview he kept pouring himself scotch from a teapot). Nabokov grew up trilingual in an aristocratic Russian family which commonly spoke a macaronic mix of Russian, French and English. He said later that he thought in images and that language followed image. It was in Ada that he at last opened the floodgate of his normally trilingual mind. When his family left their lands in the St. Petersburg region in 1919, young VN was already a poet, chess enthusiast and obsessed butterfly collector. He became a first-class student at Cambridge in Russian and French. During the 20's he was a member of the Russian ÉmigrÉ' literary world in Berlin and began his successful publishing career, which was continued in the Paris of the 30's. The exile finally landed in the US at the start of WW II, was befriended by Edmund Wilson, who shoehorned him into various magazines and publishing houses, boosted his teaching career, and wound up having one of the most famous literary feuds of the century, over Nabokov's vast translation of Eugene Onegin. Nabokov the man lives in these pages with a bloodbeat that overcomes his later narcissism and tragic self-concern. His extramarital affairs are fairly well detailed, from Nabokov's own letters to his Russian mistress in Paris. That his art sprang from a sense of parody is now clear forever.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Crown