Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Look at the Harlequins!” as Want to Read:
Look at the Harlequins!
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Look at the Harlequins!

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  787 ratings  ·  56 reviews
A dying man cautiously unravels the mysteries of memory and creation. Vadim is a Russian emigre who, like Nabokov, is a novelist, poet and critic. There are threads linking the fictional hero with his creator as he reconstructs the images of his past from young love to his serious illness.
ebook, 272 pages
Published February 16th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1974)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Look at the Harlequins!, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Look at the Harlequins!

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,619)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Second reading. A mock-memoir by the fictional Russian novelist Vadim Vadimovich, whose life is not dissimilar to Nabokov's own. As a mere strip of a lad VV flees the Bolsheviks leaving — unlike VN — a dead Red in his wake. Like VN too he first lives in Berlin, then Paris, and finally comes to America where he teaches European classics while continuing to write novels, though now in English. The tales of the VV's marriages here are hilarious. The first to a woman named Iris, whom he meets throug ...more
A very funny idea for the Master's last book. He was obviously sick to death of people asking him whether his novels were autobiographical. ("Tell me, I'm curious - have you ever raped any 12-year-old girls?") So here, he writes a novel about an author who on the surface is rather like Nabokov, and writes a bunch of books that are rather like Nabokov's books, except that in the fictitious novelist's case they really ARE autobiographical!

Unfortunately, I feel the same way about Harlequins as I do
MJ Nicholls
Vladimir was such a scream in his dotage! Honestly, everyone’s favourite arch stylist could fill the Apollo with this material. This is his final novel (barring the recently published index cards arrangement), and Vladimir goes laughing to his grave with a devilishly clever riff on his own life and works. From his early days as an extremely wealthy sophisticate, ripping his first love’s never-to-be-completed noir novel to pieces, to his time as a lecherous old professor lusting after his own dau ...more
How ironic, that I write a five paragraph review of 'Look at the Harlequins!' and with a careless sideways swipe of my too smooth mouse lose it all. Now I have to climb out of a self-made despair and mentally turn around and try and recreate the review I JUST wrote. There might be similarities to my real/original review, but any thing I say, any words I write will just be shadows and mouches volantes of my first try.

Nabokov's false memoir is loose, brazen and genius all at the same time. It is a
The two-star rating here is disingenuous: I enjoyed reading this a lot more than I enjoyed reading most of the two-star books on my shelf. Nonetheless, more than two stars wouldn't seem right. Here's why.

Saul Maloff concludes his review of LATH! thus:

But novels are not composed of beautiful sentences. Occasionally--perhaps especially when he has stunned us with his performance in sentence after sentence--we long for a huge, lumbering, sweating, grunting workhorse of a sentence that will plodding
Conoscevo Nabokov solo per Lolita finora, pur ripromettendomi di leggere altri suoi libri. Lolita è un capolavoro, non per la storia, in sé pure banale, quanto per la raffinatissima, elegante, smisuratamente ricca scrittura. Nel commento che ho scritto a Lolita ho riportato un’espressione di Nabokov, un suo pensiero, che si adatta perfettamente anche a questo romanzo. Dice Nabokov che scopo della letteratura è procurare voluttà estetica, cioè –dice- “il senso di essere in contatto, in qualche mo ...more
I think I liked this book more than a lot of people did in the end, because of the language. The lovely dripping arabesques of sentences. Words luxuriating in the not quite native hyperbolization of English precision. And maybe it was the late hour at which I read it, and the fact that no one was around, but I saw checkerboards (or more appropriately for Nabokov, chess boards) everywhere. Mirror images of his life. Black to his white. Playful associations and reversals. The book shed no light on ...more
Adam Floridia
Vadim Vadimovich N., author/narrator, is an inverse of Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov. Many of the traits that Vadim possesses are the very criticisms leveled (unjustly) at Nabokov by critics--aloofness, egotism, pedantry. Nabokov's deep love for his wife is also a clear foil for Vadim's various lusty pursuits.

I can't imagine anyone other than a true Nabokov aficionado really enjoying this book. The parts I found truly entertaining were those for which I could recognize an antithesis in Nabokov
Nabokov's last book ends on the line "mumbling, mumbling, dying." That's just too wonderful.
A fictional autobiography in which a novelist named Vadim Vadimovich looks back at his life, loves, and literary work. Perhaps the novel could be termed an “alternate biography,” insofar as there are lots of parodic allusions to Nabokov’s own biography and his novels. I read this novel after reading many of Nabokov’s other works, so the parodies here made one kind of sense to me. However, I think it is possible to enjoy this novel without having read Nabokov’s other novels: for instance, if a re ...more
This is really only meant for Nabokov completists and not readers like me who have only read Lolita before. Nabokov assumes the persona that ignorant critics and uninformed readers have crafted for him and then writes a bizarre memoir in that voice. So what we have here are the mental wanderings of an incestuous, pretentious, slightly insane, egocentric pedophile who writes terribly. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I were more familiar with Nabokov's early works and his personal history, b ...more
Many writers and book reviewers highly rate Nabokov. "Lolita" is often in various top ten lists of 20th century novels. I have no wish to read "Lolita", I have had my fill of psychological obsession with "Love in the Time of Cholera" (Marquez) and "Museum of Innocence" (Pamuk). I would also feel self conscious reading what some consider a "pervy book" on the metro. But when I saw "Look at the Harlequins", I thought I'd give it a go.

This is a book about a writer, Vadim Vadimovich, I am suspicious
Rachel Jackson
I feel a bit guilty for rating a Vladimir Nabokov book anything less than three stars, but I can reassure myself by saying a two-star review for VN is roughly the same as a four-star review for any other author — maybe not always, but frequently. Look at the Harlequins! reads like some bizarre, alternate universe version of Vladimir Nabokov's own life, rather than Vadim Vadimovich N. as constructed in the book. It is a probably a more interesting tale because of that, if you know the history of ...more
I didn't read this book during my big Nabokov phase several years ago, and I had really missed out--it's fantastic, easily as good as some of Nabokov's best (such as Pnin). I'm not quite sure how much I would've gotten out of it had I not read most of Nabokov's books already and been very familiar with his life (from the grad Nabokov class I took); the parallels and mirrorings between the narrator and Nabokov were delightful and sometimes somewhat obscure.
I can understand the ratings all over the map, but in the end it is Nabokov writing, and it's wonderful language. Also very funny. An absurd riff throughout about warning his successive wives of his 'mental illness' of being unable to imagine reversing course on a journey, when he ought to be warning them of so much more. And the narrator/author pseudo Nabokov hates butterflies. But can't resist denoting locations in chess notation.
Me plantea dudas.
LOOK AT THE HARLEQUINS! (1974). Vladimir Nabokov. ***.
This was Nabokov’s last novel. If this had been the first of his books that I read, it would have been my last. It was a thinly disguised autobiography of an ex-pat writer living, mostly, in France, and his love life – including four marriages. The piece itself was well written, but the story had no legs. I am embarrassed to give one of Nabokov’s novels only three stars, but that’s how I called it. After a while, the read became tedious, and
Theatre of the Absurd. Yes, that is really the first expression that comes to mind when thinking back of this lovely last full novel of Vladimir Nabokov. If "Mary", his first novel was the most straight forward, then "Look at the Harlequins!" has to qualify, not as the most complex, that prize would surely have to go to either "Lolita" or more likely "Pale Fire", but as the funniest take-off of his own life. With allusions to not only his own life, and his novels, this book is richly carpeted wi ...more
Cailin Deery
My very least favorite book by my twinsoul. Look at the Harlequins was peripheral, inexact and vaguely autobiographical with a sense that Nabokov really just wanted to talk more about his own life without bearing down on the negative aspects too much. The whole book felt parenthetical, which made paying attention or following the digressive (brackish, really) threads nearly impossible. There isn't a single passage I liked that maintained clarity for more than a paragraph or two in suspension.

Nabokov invites the reader to Look At The Harlequins!

Which is almost an acronym for lathe, which would suggest that the pages are wood shavings and not to be taken seriously.

Or as seriously as you'd take a harlequin that came prancing through your house.

Want to know who I don't take seriously? My harlequin last night was Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider. That was some horrible overacting, even by comic book adaptation standards. And...and Peter Fonda's hairstylist was trying to recreate Gary Oldm
Now imagine that one night over drinks at David Lynch's house, Nabokov and Borges decided to write a novel together... Well, yes. That would be "Look at the Harlequins" (a title which probably does not--- but should ---reference Jacques Lacan's instruction to difficult analysands: Regardez le cheval!).

Here we have Vadim Vadimovich N., an emigre Russian writer who is almost-but-not-quite Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, whose life is almost-but-not-quite Nabokov's, and whose novels are almost-but-
Jim Leckband
LATH (he uses this acronym in the book) is a metamorphic puzzle piece where it helps to have a clue about the live and works of Nabokov to put the kaleidoscopic pieces together. Nabokov's autobiography of Vadim Vadimovich N. is a playful twist on the autobiographical truism that fact is fiction and vice-versa.

What I was left with after reading this is a better notion of what Nabokov was up to with all the "doubles" in his works (twins, look-a-likes etc.) LATH seems to say that these doubles are
Christopher Sutch
Nabokov's last novel published during his lifetime is very complex and, I'm sure, strikes many readers as esoteric and at times incomprehensible (I found it so, as well, and I'm a trained literary critic). It does, however, reward readers who have read Nabokov's entire published output. There are sly and witty references to many of his previous works as refracted through the personality of VN's alter ego/protagonist Vadim Vadimovich. Much of VN's sardonic humor, naturally, if focused on _Lolita_ ...more
I found it interesting primarily because I've read the novels the protagonist alludes to in the narrative. Without reading all of Nabokov's earlier novels (except for Pnin) beforehand, this would not have stood by itself, although, as always with Nabokov, there are some beautiful, thought-provoking passages.
Excellent (obviously), but not recommended to Nabokov newbies - there's a steady stream of in-jokes and oblique references to previous novels.
Despair Speaking
Vladimir Nabokov is a genius!

To fend off all the annoying people who keep asking him whether his books are secretly autobiographies (a lot of people want to know if he was a molester too like in Lolita), he decides to write this book about an author similar to him who writes books similar to his save for the fact that they actually ARE autobiographies!

In your face!!!

Unfortunately, this is also his last book. Alas.

Nabokov's last novel is layered with autobiography, invented autobiography, and themes from his most memorable books. It's a clever assemblage for those who are familiar with his work, a sort of a "Greatest Hits" album. However, I don't think *not* knowing this background would make it so much less enjoyable. Someone who picks it up simply as a fictional autobiography would still find it amusing and intelligent. But I loved that Vadim was such a collection of traits - his own, Van Veen's, Humber ...more
Lukas Evan
Nabokov's last novel. Where are the nymphets?
It's sort of a fictionalized autobiography. I have no idea what in the book is directly from Nabokov's life and what he made up, but it's great in any case. It's the last thing he published and apparently not his best work, but it's pretty short and sweet. Might be worth it to read an actual biography of Nabokov along with this book, and read more of his novels before reading this. I've only read Lolita, but it seems like he makes a fair amount of references to his other novels which I didn't re ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 53 54 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years
  • The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness
  • Eugene Onegin, Vol. I (Text)
  • The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Noise of Time: Selected Prose
  • Vera (Mrs.Vladimir Nabokov)
  • On Grief and Reason: Essays
  • The Island of Second Sight
  • The Dream Life of Sukhanov
  • The Zoo Where You're Fed to God
  • Maidenhair
  • Tolstoy: A Biography
  • Conversations with Stalin
  • Up Above the World
  • Latecomers
  • Petersburg
  • A Breath of Life
  • Memories of the Future
Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cit
More about Vladimir Nabokov...
Lolita Pale Fire Pnin Invitation to a Beheading Speak, Memory

Share This Book

“We are liable to miss the best of life if we do not know how to tingle, if we do not learn to hoist ourselves just a little higher than we generally are in order to sample the rarest and ripest fruit of art which human thought has to offer.” 5 likes
“Every author believes, when his first book is published, that those that acclaim it are his personal friends or impersonal peers, while its revilers can only be envious rogues and nonentities.” 0 likes
More quotes…