Thursday 6 August 2009

Nabokov - Not impressed at all

From our local library I have borrowed the Weidenfeld & Nicolson edition of Nabokov's stories, a 600p+ royal hardback which collects all his shorter fiction. It comes with extraordinary quotes, such as Updike's "Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written – that is, ecstatically" or Martin Amis's "The variety, force and richness of Nabokov's perceptions have not even the palest rival in modern fiction. To read him in full flight is to experience stimulation that is at once intellectual, imaginative and aesthetic, the nearest thing to pure sensual pleasure that prose can offer".

Although I was hoping, in fact, to find a copy of Lolita (which I have now reserved), I was glad to have a chance to read, for the first time in English, the work of "one of the twentieth century's greatest prose stylists". So I got my teeth right into this lovely volume and read a dozen stories in a couple of days. The stories are arranged chronologically, and I jumped back and forth at random just to have an idea of Nabokov's different themes and styles.

I must say I was deeply disappointed with what I have read so far. I found Nabokov's prose florid, overcooked, slightly patronizing, always trying too hard, lacking that simplicity and intelligence which is the mark of true genius – and, above all, I often had a feeling I was reading a bad translation from the Russian. And the stories I have read were not that hard-hitting.

You may remember I had a similar problem with John Updike's prose. Maybe I just can't connect with these great "stylists". After all it's all so subjective. Still, I'd like to check out if Lolita is really that great masterpiece that it is purported to be. But it'll take at least a couple of weeks before I can get my copy from the library, so in the meantime I'll carry on reading from this volume, and I'll be happy to eat my words and change my mind about Nabokov's writing.



  1. maybe you should stick to reading x-box instruction manuals or the ingredients on food packaging; leave reading nab and other prose stylists to people with spines to tingle, souls to feed.

  2. Yes, Anonymous, I'll just do that. AG


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