Scores of interviews reveal Nabokov’s sly wit and powerful opinions.
Award-winning biographer, editor, and literary critic Boyd (English/Univ. of Auckland; Why Lyrics Last: Evolution, Cognition and Shakespeare's Sonnets, 2012, etc.) and scholar and translator Tolstoy (Junior Research Fellow/University of Oxford; co-translator: Nabokov’s The Tragedy of Mister Morn, 2013) have gathered more than 150 uncollected writings by the prolific Nabokov (Letters to Véra, 2014, etc.): essays, reviews, questionnaire responses, letters to editors, and—accounting for the majority of the pieces—interviews, most dating from the “post-Lolita years of world fame.” An informative introduction places the selections in the context of Nabokov’s life and writing career. After Lolita appeared in 1958, interviewers pressed Nabokov about not only the book, but also opinions of other writers, his decision to live in America (the “country where I’ve breathed most deeply,” he said), his interest in butterflies, and his assessment of his own work. Boyd has condensed some of the more repetitive interviews. Nabokov claimed that his favorite book was the just-published Lolita, “the story of a poor, charming girl” who was “caught up by a disgusting and cruel man.” To the suggestion that any of his books could be elucidated by Freudian interpretation, he was indignant: Freud, he proclaimed, “has been one of the most pernicious influences on literature…a medieval mind dealing in medieval symbols.” Psychoanalysis, he added, “has something Bolshevik: internal police.” Nabokov had similarly vehement opinions about a host of writers: Dostoevsky was “a journalist, like Balzac,” and “Camus is a third-rate novelist.” He admired Hemingway’s short stories, but he thought his novels were “abominable.” Of Nobel Prize winner Boris Pasternak, Nabokov derided Dr. Zhivago as “a sorry thing, full of clichés, clumsy, trivial and melodramatic.” J.D. Salinger, though, was “a great, wonderful writer—the best American novelist.” When asked what other career he might have chosen “if the muse failed,” Nabokov suggested a lepidopterist, chess grandmaster, or a “tennis ace with an unreturnable service.”
A rich treat for Nabokov’s admirers.