ADA, OR ARDOR by Vladimir Nabokov


A Family Chronicle
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Probably few people would question that Nabokov is the greatest living writer and he reached his apogee with Pale Fire and Lolita. This new novel, his first in ten years, intended to deal with the problem of time which has always been a paramount concern and preceded by much intimidating advance commentary, is pure Nabokov. All his readers will recognize the particular specifics of his apparatus. That is if they get past the opening chapters with their impedimenta which Nabokov himself recognizes ("The modest narrator has to remind the rereader of all this"). Rereading entails not only impenetrable sentences but also the entangling introduction of characters: two sisters Aqua and Marina (a portmanteau name) who marry two cousins of the same name, namely Walter D. Veen with alternate appellations (Demian or Dementius or Demon). Their progeny, that is Marina's, will be the central characters of the book: Van Veen who is presumably Aqua's child (Aqua dies with the delusion-allusion that he is not hers as indeed he isn't) and Marina's two legitimate little girls, Ada (Ardor if pronounced in Russian) and Lucette. This takes place in the kingdom of Terra (America) and more specifically on the family estate, Ardis, where the "romantic siblings" Van and Ada enjoy each other immoderately as youngsters. A little later they will be joined by the lewd Lucette, a paranymph, but in spite of endless tumbling together, it will be Ada that Van loves all of his 97 years and to whom he comes back again and again and finally permanently. To return to the theory of time with which the book essentially deals (however rakish, or raffish, the fictional substructure) Nabokov discusses it at length (and finally in a closing essay) via Veen who makes it his lifework (along with dreams and dementia): time as memory and memory in the making, time as perception, time as a "continuous becoming" and a threatening disintegration into "everlasting nonlastingness" or oblivion, time and space, space and time with the defeating recognition that "I am because I die." But as Ada says, "We can know the time, we can know a time. We can never know Time." . . . And to return to the above mentioned apparatus: it's all there--the wordmanship and the polylingual punning (Aujourd'hui-- heute-toity); the entomological and botanical addenda (maidenhair and butterflies); and the particular pleasures of little girls although, as in Lolita, the erotica is a dalliance of the intellect rather than the flesh. But as compared to the earlier books, there is little passion or compassion: some of it is dazzling, much of it is enervating. And as for that general reader, Caveat caviar.
Pub Date: May 5th, 1969
ISBN: 0679725229
Page count: 626pp
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1969


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