KING, QUEEN, KNAVE by Vladimir Nabokov


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This is Nabokov's second novel, written in 1928, which he has recently retouched and which he presents here in a new introduction as his "gayest." Certainly almost to the end, its tone of bonhomie--even buffoonery--prevails and the internal paradox of his later and more important works gives way to external parody. When the novel first appeared, many critics held that it was a "merciless satire of contemporary German bourgeois life" and, Andrew Field to the contrary, certainly it does purvey the heavy comforts of kleinburgerlich life, from roast goose down to the silver mustache brush. And as lived by Dreyer, a businessman with a successful emporium and grossly physical energies, and his bored if glisteningly sensuous Marthe. She's a Berliner Bovary (Mr. Nabokov readily admits the influence), but along with her husband, her villa, her automobile, she has reached a point of domestic tedium and is ready for a lover. The knave is none other than Dryer's nephew Franz, purblind behind his thick glasses, provincial, callow, but at first eager. The necessarily abbreviated if frequent amorous rendezvous lead on--to the willful Marthe's desires to have her freedom along with her husband's wherewithal; to her plan to kill him in which Franz is an increasingly uncomfortable collaborator; to the unexpected reverse in which fate holds the high trump card. . . . Toward the close, with the obsessive projections in the minds of Marthe (as she envisions Dreyer's demise) and Dreyer (his preoccupations with a mechanical mannequin) there are just traces of the later, quintessential Nabokov, and almost none of the stylistic subtleties. However, in terms of the general reader, this is one of his most open-faced entertainments and while Nabokov really plays the hand, he does so in a jauntily diabolical fashion.
Pub Date: May 13th, 1968
ISBN: 0679723404
Page count: 294pp
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1968


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