THE MAGICIAN'S DOUBTS: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction by Michael Wood

THE MAGICIAN'S DOUBTS: Nabokov and the Risks of Fiction

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Striking insights into the complicated literary art of Vladimir Nabokov. Wood (English/Princeton; America in the Movies, 1975, etc.) frames his investigation with meditations on Nabokov's relationship to pain and loss. A Russian refugee to the West, the novelist chose to write primarily in English. The richness of his prose in English, Wood suggests, compensates for the deprivation he imposed on himself by silencing his native tongue. Nabokov appropriated a range of styles, without establishing an exclusive relationship to any one of them. Nevertheless, Wood shows, his signature, the distinctive mark of his presence, can indeed be read in his works. Nabokov's first novel in English, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, presents itself as its narrator's memoir of his late brother, a novelist; discussing it, Wood focuses the relationship between his critical themes of authorship and loss. Moving toward his examination of Nabokov's greatest works--Speak, Memory; Lolita; Pale Fire; Ada--Wood brings out the unity in this writer's varied voices, posing ""the question of how the sly idiot, the haughty mandarin, and the great, doubting magician get along together. Particularly when they meet up with, or actually become . . . the theorist of pain."" Reading Speak, Memory, Wood shows how ""masks are Nabokov's business, even as an autobiographer."" Wood's chapter on Lolita disappoints slightly, failing to cohere as an argument. He returns to the rails, however, in a meditation on Nabokov's translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Mobilizing all of the resources he has developed, Wood turns to consider Pnin, Pale Fire, and Ada in a concluding trio of essays. His consideration of languages as translation helps him here, as he strives to develop his themes--the multiplicity of Nabokov's identities, and his experience of pain--into a picture of the novelist as magician of morals. These appreciations of Nabokov will resonate deeply for those initiated into his mysteries.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0691048304
Page count: 252pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.