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The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  2,837 ratings  ·  189 reviews
The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, Nabokov's first novel in English, was completed in Paris in 1938, first published by New Directions in 1941, reissued in 1959 to wide critical acclaim and now relaunched again, with an appreciative introduction by Pulitzer-Prize winning critic Michael Dirda.

This, the narrator tells us, is the real life of famous author Sebastian Knight, t
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Hardcover, 205 pages
Published January 17th 1959 by New Directions (first published 1941)
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Anthony Vacca
Nabokov's cold but never stylistically unsound first novel in English should make most said-language speaking writers go ahead and give up now before they embarrass themselves. The brainy, Russian bastard just leapfrogs from the lilly pad of his native language to the horizontally moving log of my native language with the ease of a joystick joggle of Frogger. Jealous gripes and grouses aside, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is a formally inventive metaphysical detective story about a prissy, a ...more
Darwin8u
Nabokov's tenth novel and first published novel written in English, 'The Real Life of Sebastian Knight' for me seemed like a dry run at big, complex themes he would later use in Ada (funky plot structure) and Pale Fire (meta-fixation on another 'artists' literary work) along with a complex, Möbius-like narrative. Is this a story written by literary author Sebastian Knight about a real or imagined younger brother's search for himself? OR is it (as it first seems) a story about a younger brother w ...more
Cosimo
“La nota fondamentale della vita di Sebastian era la solitudine, e quanto più il destino cercava benevolmente di farlo sentire a suo agio contraffacendo in modo ammirevole le cose che egli credeva di desiderare, tanto più avvertiva la propria incapacità di inserirsi nel quadro, - in qualsiasi quadro. Allorché infine comprese appieno questa realtà e cominciò a coltivare con accanimento il proprio disagio, come se si fosse trattato di un talento raro o di una passione, solo allora Sebastian trasse ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
A few scattered reflections, both on the novel and Nabokov in general...

1. There are a number of ways one can take the novel's closing lines, which I of course won't give away for fear of being beheaded by the "no-spoilers" crowd. Suffice it to say that it's ambiguous, and that potential interpretations of it sit along a spectrum: it can be said to do everything from provide an imaginative and emotionally satisfying resolution to the narrator's arc to pulling one of those too-clever "bet you wer
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Natalie
Nabokov has such a masterful command of the English language - which wasn't even his native tongue - that I stand in awe of his glorious turns of phrase, alliterations, puns, and other linguistic tricks. He puns in French, too, while I weep with envy.

I personally thought Sebastian Knight was a much better book than Lolita, the Nabokov book that everyone's read. The nameless narrator, the half-brother of the eponymous character, spends the entirety of the novel attempting to piece together the li
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René Pannekoek
Simply the best book I've ever read.

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight is Nabokov's first English novel. It tells an outwardly straightforward story, while suggesting the unreliability of the narrator (unnamed except for his last initial, which is V.) at every step in the way. Slowly, the reader feels himself becoming entangled in a web of suspicions and possibilities.

The story of the novel is told, in the first person, by a biographer in search of the life of his subject. This subject is his hal
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Meriam Kharbat
While describing the prismatic Bezel, one of Sebastian Knight’s books, V, the narrator says: “I have tried my best to show the workings of this book, at least some of its workings. Its charm, humor and pathos can only be appreciated by direct reading”.

Sadly, this does not apply for this particular book. Now that I have finished it, I feel that there might be some depth to it that I couldn’t reach even with direct reading.

Although the deceiving title might lure you to thinking that this book is
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Adam Floridia
I knew I could count on Nabokov to saturate the literary drought befalling me of late. The beauty of his prose at times induces synaesthesia that assails the senses: the simple black ink typescript ascends from the page and makes the skin tingle lightly as if a gentle current is being applied; images coalesce, first slowly, then distinctly, to form a vibrant picture replete with sound, taste, smell, and, above all, feeling. “One thought-image, then another breaks upon the shore of consciousness, ...more
Pollopicu
Considering Lolita is my favorite novel in the entire world, I expected to feel somewhat of the same magic and enchantment reading Nabokov's The Real Life Of Sebastian Knight, but I had difficulty even making out Nabokov at all. But what do I know? out of all of his novels I've only read Lolita, and now Sebastian. My mistake was that I assumed that all of Nabokov's works would seduce me. I'll have to read some more of his novels and see what happens. The tale of Sebastian Knight is appealing eno ...more
Jane
"I know that the common pebble you find in your fist after having thrust your arm shoulder [sic] deep into water, where a jewel seemed to gleam on pale sand, is really the coveted gem though it looks like a pebble as it dries in the sun of everyday. Therefore I felt that the nonsensical sentence which sang in my head as I awoke was really the garbled translation of a striking disclosure..." Nabokov offers us lots of jewels glinting beneath the surface, without any guarantees they aren't dull peb ...more
Zeynep K
dudaklarımı büzüyor beyaz bir tükürük çıkarıyorum ağzımdan, tükürük düşüyor, düşüyor, hep ıskalıyorum sebastian'ı. bunu onu kızdırmak için değil, sadece varlığımı fark etsin diye inatçı ama boşuna umutlarla yapıyorum. / s. 19

tarihi boyunca, arada sırada ikiyüzlü yönetimler ülkenin cezaevlerinin duvarlarını eskisine oranla göze daha hoş görünen bir sarıya boyar, bağıra çağıra, yalnızca daha mutlu devletlere kısmet olmuş hakları getirdiklerini ilan ederlerdi. ... ülkedeki her insan eğer zorba deği
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aidan w-m
this is awesome, the total package. all of nabokov's idiosyncrasies are contextualized--the pacing works within the narrative frame, the beautiful prose is serviceable, the eccentric narration is suitable for its character. the conceit--the search for identity as the goal of art--is as always compelling, but so is the story on a surface level. i can not wait to have a second try at pale fire now.
Mahmood666
مردی در ابتدای داستان ادعا میکند که میخواهد کتابی در جواب زندگینامه نویسی دروغگو که کتابی در مورد زندگی سباستین ،برادراز دست رفته اش نوشته،بنویسد.برادری که در طول زندگیش تنها دوبار رویتش کرده یکبار در هفت سالگی و دیگری در جوانی اما برای نوشتن زندگینامه برای برادر از دست رفته اش مسلما نیاز به دانشی همه جانبه از زندگی برادر وجود دارد و او هیچ نمیداند.پس سفری را در پیش میگیرد و با هر که سباستین را می شناخت دیدار میکند و هر جایی که برادرش رفته بود را میبیند.ولی هر چه که به افرادی که برادرش را میشناخ ...more
Black Elephants
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Ben Crandell
If I had to blurt out what my favorite book was, it would be this. What I love about this book, and most of Vladimir Nabokov's books, is the art with which it is written. This book keys in on an aspect of life which is so elusive, and beautiful, and ephemeral... That is what most of his books do, really. Somehow, V.N. tells the story of someone's life through dazzling plays of light and dream-like prose. Also, there is rich humor, and wonderful puns. And to keep it from being too fluffy, Nabokov ...more
Eric Hinkle
This is probably the most beautiful Nabokov novel I've read (and it's up there with his most poignant short stories, too). Many passages left me rather stunned. The trickery, obscurity, and general "structural fun" is there, as always, but the beauty is what I really took away from it. The novel is largely a sort of parody of bad biographies, and as this book goes on it gets more and more amusing to watch it unfold.

It's his first novel written in English, and the vocabulary is fairly large but n
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Michael Venzke
book about a man who tries to discover the inner thoughts/beliefs of his half brother after his young death.

compelling for issues of public perception / how much people around you really know you, also for struggling writers or people who experienced similar loss.

has scenes that closely compete with salinger's franny and zooey as the best written description of real life I can remember reading.
Hadrian
Nabokov's first foray into English, a story about a novelist, his brother, and the search to discover the 'real life' of the former. Nabokov's prove is not as sparkly as usual, as he is still becoming accustomed to English, but it still shines. Recommended to those who know the struggle of an artist's life, or Nabokov fans.
Renee
Interesting and quick read.

Quite a bit different than Lolita, so I'll certainly have to check out more Nabokov.

Particularly liked this passage for some reason,
"He wandered on talking to himself, his shadow now pulling a long nose, now dropping curtsey, as it slipped back round a lamp-post."
Gabriel
A little clumsily done in parts, frankly: stuffing leaks out, springs are sprung, moves are telegraphed. But also admirably done, overall. How much interest can we muster in nothing? Quite a lot, actually. Not Larry David; Sam Beckett-- this is a potter's wheel, not a card game.
Emoke Czako
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patricia
A metafiction in the voice of the novelist's brother who wishes to write his biography. The brother's name is never revealed and I began to suspect that his identity was the same as the novelist. That would mirror another character's feigning to be someone else in order to string the inquisitive investigator along. The narrator searches for pieces of the deceased's life. He finds lovers and friends who reveal certain episodes: the composition and style and travels of SK, his fatal illness, his a ...more
Robert Ronsson
As part of my thoughts on this book I'd like to discuss the 'contract' between the fiction writer and the reader. Let's start by saying that neither of them believes that what passes between them is literal truth. We all talk of the 'truths' about life that a novel may disclose but nobody believes the story itself is 'true'.
However, through some alchemy of the brain, the reader converts the written word into a version of the truth in that moment. The story lives. The hackneyed phrase: disbelief
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Jay McNair
Both of Nabokov's novels that I've read so far have the same stages of reading. The first few pages sparkle and draw me in; then the rest of the first half is slowish going, somewhat uncompelling, difficult to get that interested in. Finally in the latter half the plot picks up and things are wonderful, emotional, surprising, and all the payoffs happen. And the reading at the end is coupled with a desire to go back, reread, plumb the details for clues, and finally read someone else's thoughts on ...more
David
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Perry Whitford
The half-brother of a recently deceased Russian emigre writer sets out to write his biography. A straight forward premise, but this is the master of the slight of hand and in typically delicious Nabokovian fashion nothing is as it seems. Even the veracity of the narrator himself is in doubt as a pre-existing biography, written by Sebastian Knight's secretary Mr. Goodman, makes no mention of a step-brother.
In addition, whilst looking through some of the papers that the deceased has left to his h
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Eli
Of all the Nabokov novels I've read, this one is my favorite. It is a cozier, shorter book than Lolita, with a simple premise: the narrator embarks on a quest to uncover details of the life of his late brother Sebastian Knight, the novelist; the two had been distant until his death. His journey takes him around Europe, uncovering more hazy uncertainty than fact. But in beautiful prose Nabokov offers the promise of revelation, tantalizingly close, disappearing around the next corner or hidden som ...more
Ensiform
The first of Nabokov’s works to be written in English, it’s a very strange work. Since it’s Nabokov, it’s self-referential --- the narrator is describing a book which he has written, which of course is meant to be the book being read. The book is the unnamed author’s search for the “real” Sebastian Knight, who is his late half-brother and an author himself. During the course of the search, the narrator does do some detective work, but mostly gives us a series of his reminisces, some anecdotal, s ...more
Michael
I am always impressed by Nabokov. How he wasn't awarded the Nobel is shocking, but who cares about awards anyway when you have Lolita and Pale Fire on your resume. The novel is beautiful. He seems to build structures with his prose (kind alike Borges in a more entertaining way). He isn't so much writing a novel as drawing you a map. Though the book never really convinces you emotionally that doesn't seem the point. His first novel in English is self-reflexive and self-councious (meant as a compl ...more
Edward S. Portman
Nabokov è un grande scrittore. La vera vita di Sebastian Knight non so se è il suo libro migliore. L’unico altro suo lavoro che ho letto è Lolita, un romanzo carico di una cultura extra letteraria. Se la storia della giovane ragazza che seduce l’insegnante più vecchio è già di per sé una storia capace di attrarre per audacia e “stranezza” (almeno all’epoca), la storia di Sebastian Knight non ha uno slancio altrettanto “sbarazzino” su cui poggiare tutto l’arco narrativo. Non c’è un vero e proprio ...more
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Nabokov in Three ...: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight 1 7 Jun 10, 2012 01:08AM  
  • Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years
  • Eugene Onegin, Vol. I (Text)
  • The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness
  • Envy
  • The Noise of Time: Selected Prose
  • Petersburg
  • Black Snow
  • The Portable Twentieth-Century Russian Reader
  • The Sebastopol Sketches
  • Vera (Mrs.Vladimir Nabokov)
  • The Squabble
  • Less Than One: Selected Essays
  • Conquered City
  • Forever Flowing
  • Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings
  • Netochka Nezvanova
  • The Dream Life of Sukhanov
  • Tolstoy: A Biography
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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
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More about Vladimir Nabokov...
Lolita Pale Fire Pnin Invitation to a Beheading Speak, Memory

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