LOOK AT THE HARLEQUINS! by Vladimir Nabokov


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Look at the harlequins -- trees, words, "situations and sums. . . jokes, images. . . Play! Invent the world! Invent reality." Thus the advice of an aunt to Vadim Vadimovich, during the childhood of this Russian born writer who emigrated to England and then Paris and then Germany and then the U.S., who now has written this theoretically "oblique" recit of his books and his wives although -- under the slight maquillage of the harlequin -- Vadim is of course none other than. Part of the pleasure for some will be the familiar ground (tired ground?) where butterflies fly above the flora or the nymphets in the grass -- where the clef almost seems larger than the roman, or those other romans all with new names just slightly transposed, particularly Ardis, "my poor dead love" -- the "best of my English romaunts." Was it? In between Vadim tells his story of his strange illness called the "numerical nimbus syndrome" in which he can't envision a volte-face -- something seems very wrong with his sense of direction. . . from his first love for Iris in Cannice who doesn't speak at all until she begins to speak like a novelette, to his later love for Bel, his own daughter. . .and hovering here and there, another character Dementia -- who will help him to realize in his late, late years how he has indeed confused direction with duration -- his "fatidic" (prophetic) problem. But when all is said and done -- the "jokes and images," the emblematic paraphernalia, the upsidedown referrals, riddles and diddles -- one is troubled with the sad notion of a man spooked by the specter of duration trying to corroborate or commemorate himself by merely toying with his past achievements. We are more comfortable remembering the truly great writer who wrote his own syllogistic epitaph in Pale Fire: "Other men die; but I/Am not another; therefore I'll not die.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1974
ISBN: 0679727280
Page count: 251pp
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1974


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