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The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,404 Ratings  ·  227 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
Hardcover, 205 pages
Published January 17th 1959 by New Directions (first published 1941)
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I've always had a problem with how I appear in other people’s photos - the image I see never matches the image I have of myself, the one I’ve retained from looking in the mirror every morning of my life. I’ve often wondered what the difference is, and figured, among other things, that it may be because the photo shows what the camera sees, someone vaguely looking in its direction, while the mirror offers a more 'concentrated me', the ‘real me’, the one with eyes that really see instead of merely ...more
Apr 25, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
“There is only one real number: one. And love, apparently, is the best exponent of this singularity.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight


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 lit
Anthony Vacca
Sep 01, 2014 Anthony Vacca rated it liked it
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
O meu primeiro contacto com Nabokov foi com a sua obra mais popular (e controversa): Lolita. Lembro-me que fiquei algo que transtornada e confusa ao ler Lolita, não percebia se tinha gostado ou não, precisei mesmo de algum tempo para pôr as ideias em ordem. A conclusão que retirei foi esta: se Nabokov consegue causar tal sentimento no leitor então será certamente um grande escritor, e isso deve-se principalmente à sua escrita (muito delicada e bem estruturada). O passo seguinte foi procurar outr ...more
Vit Babenco
May 09, 2016 Vit Babenco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How does a real life of a person relate to his overtly known biography?
“Sebastian's image does not appear as part of my boyhood, thus subject to endless selection and development, nor does it appear as a succession of familiar visions, but it comes to me in a few bright patches, as if he were not a constant member of our family, but some erratic visitor passing across a lighted room and then for a long interval fading into the night. I explain this not so much by the fact that my own childish i
Jul 31, 2015 Stian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A mysterious and at times almost sinister story with a somewhat curious ending (whose real meaning depends entirely on the reader) that leaves you with a lot to think about, written in a brilliant way by an astonishingly brilliant writer who knows that what you don't write is equally important as what you do write, and with that he plays with you in a deceptively simple narrative that is really anything but. If you don't pay attention, you'll gain little from Volodya.
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
Sep 06, 2009 Natalie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed
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
Karina E
Nov 02, 2015 Karina E rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
I was strongly reminded of my Lolita reading experience. Nabokov makes you read every single word of every sentence. It's an intense reading experience and he makes me focus like no other author I've come across. I don't have too many thoughts and feelings towards the story itself. It was a bit exhausting to read and would definitely benefit from a reread or two. Just what I expected from Nabokov.
Sep 04, 2015 Alexander rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Maybe it's a momentary response to the ersatz-bluster of Henry Miller; maybe it's because, fresh off Ada, my mind has yet to render an insatiable hunger for more Nabokov; or maybe most people are wrong and severely underrating, but The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, for all the clumsiness and structural slips expected of an author's first foray in a foreign language, is a fucking fantastic read. Literary thrashings and facades, metafictive wordplay, Space-Time parody, dissolution of identity and ...more
Jan 11, 2015 Cosimo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
Jul 13, 2016 Panos rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

Εντάξει, πολυεπίπεδο και καλοδουλεμένο μυθιστόρημα, αλλά κάπου το 'χασα με τις υποθέσεις των μυθιστορημάτων του συγγραφέα-αδερφού του αφηγητή. Υπάρχουν αρκετά σημεία σύνδεσης των πλοκών των μυθιστορημάτων αυτών με την αφήγηση που τις περικλείει, ωστόσο δεν κατάφερα να συγκεντρωθώ όσο θα έπρεπε για να τα εντοπίσω όλα.
Marcello S
Non male ma, seppur alla prima esperienza col buon Vladimir, sono convinto abbia scritto di meglio. [71/100]
Nov 04, 2014 Mahmood666 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 06, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american, russia, fiction
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.
René Pannekoek
Nov 18, 2012 René Pannekoek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Meriam Kharbat
Jan 03, 2013 Meriam Kharbat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian
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
Adam Floridia
Oct 20, 2010 Adam Floridia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nabokov
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
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
Pedro Varanda
Oct 21, 2015 Pedro Varanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mais um excelente livro a acrescentar a tantos outros que este enorme escritor nos deixou como legado.Este livro é um exercício de memória que tenta reinventar o passado e quase parar o tempo. Tem por base uma tentativa de escrita de uma biografia onde as fronteiras do real estão muito diluídas. Muito recomendável.
Nov 11, 2013 Jane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Katie Herring
Jun 17, 2016 Katie Herring rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a sad, beautiful novel-- I cried at the end.

This is my second and favorite Nabokov, I didn't understand Invitation to a Beheading, but this, this I felt.

This was quite a page turner, I read it all in one sitting. I really liked how unique of a narrative this was-- it's one of those novels where the main character pretends the main character is someone else-- think Gatsby or Antonia.
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
Ben Crandell
Dec 26, 2010 Ben Crandell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 09, 2013 Eric Hinkle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 19, 2016 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
a story about a writer, or about understanding a writer, or about writing. maybe all of the above. but also touching and sad and real and smart and funny.
Next time you're at a party and someone tells you that Nabokov is too clever, too smug, too distant, (as I assume happens to party-goers often) lend them your copy of The Real Life of Sebastian Knight. Sebastian Knight won't be, as Nabokov would have it, elenctic to their claims. But the book will show how Nabokov's vicious mocking never spared himself, and how beneath all that showing off, a real tenderness can be found.

It's also something of a skeleton key:

“It is as if a painter said: look, he
Michael Venzke
Jul 31, 2007 Michael Venzke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essentials
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.
Otro de mis favoritos de Nabokov. Otro inteligente y delicioso juego que Nabokov propone a sus lectores. Una interesante, divertida y fascinante reflexión metaliteraria acerca de la identidad, el tema estrella en Nabokov. Además, también habla de el tema del doble, mi tema favorito y otro de los temas estrella de Nabokov.
Dec 16, 2013 Renee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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."
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Nabokov in Three ...: The Real Life of Sebastian Knight 1 8 Jun 10, 2012 01:08AM  
  • Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years
  • The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness
  • Conquered City
  • The Dream Life of Sukhanov
  • The Secret History of Vladimir Nabokov
  • Black Snow
  • The Dragon: Fifteen Stories
  • Envy
  • Tolstoy: A Biography
  • The Fierce and Beautiful World
  • Less Than One: Selected Essays
  • Summer in Baden-Baden
  • Petersburg
  • The Noise of Time: Selected Prose
  • کنستانسیا
  • The Portable Twentieth-Century Russian Reader
  • Forever Flowing
  • The Sebastopol Sketches
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...

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“Suddenly for no earthly reason I felt immensely sorry for him and longed to say something real, something with wings and a heart, but the birds I wanted settled on my shoulders and head only later when I was alone and not in need of words.” 59 likes
“I cannot help feeling there is something essentially wrong about love. Friends may quarrel or drift apart, close relations too, but there is not this pang, this pathos, this fatality which clings to love. Friendship never has that doomed look. Why, what is the matter? I have not stopped loving you, but because I cannot go on kissing your dim dear face, we must part, we must part.” 23 likes
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