J.'s Reviews > Glory

Glory by Vladimir Nabokov
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's review
Jun 29, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: between-the-wars, europe, nabokov

Nabokov’s kaleidoscopic coming-of–age novel Glory was written in Russian in 1932, and later translated into English by son Dmitri in the seventies, under the supervision of father, author and observant reporter, Vladimir.

Basically two veins being explored here. One the familiar theme of first-love / love-lost & consequent melancholy that comprises the vocational aspirations of every Sensitive Youth.

And the other, the Mise-en-Scène-- itself a complex place-shifting and time-juggling looking glass, framing & reframing the bigger picture. The ongoing motief is that of a window of a moving passenger-train car, with it's motion-picture cuts, fades, dissolves. If the Subject at hand is ardor and rememberance, the choice of perspective is ... a moving frame. As told by Nabokov with a constantly morphing set of cues, that surround but never entirely define the emotional center of the narrative.

These effects, or linkages, manage to blur the transitions between scenes, the continuousness of the timeline, almost to the extent of disorienting the reader every few pages. Basically there is another ‘rosebud’ every time the mood shifts, every prop and postcard on the set a coded message from the netherworld of Memory.

This may all sound a bit whizzy and wispy, but as rendered by Nabokov the shape-shifting narrative elements are held to account by the grounding influences of irony and humor, in effectively calculated doses. As here :

“... Martin was tormented by the thought that she might be making sophisticated fun of him and that any moment she might cause him to take a false step, prodding him toward the boundary beyond which phantasmata become tasteless—and the dreamwalker is jolted into seeing the roof edge from which he is dangling, his own hiked-up night-shirt, the crowd looking up from the sidewalk, the firemen’s helmets...“

The Love and Loss aspects are also constantly being counterbalanced by the merciless twists of fate, reaching their eventual resolution in a coup of the unforeseen /unwelcome developments variety, very much in the tradition of the short-story. Our protagonist finds a Russian Émigré journal of literature in a French railway kiosk that tells of his own betrayal in love-- news to him-- the story within the story, written by his betrayer’s seducer. From here it’s a short rush to the edge of the cliff, where a youth (and maybe Youth) falls into a swooning plunge, the defining arc of the narrative.

All of the elements of the later VN are noticeable here, yet we’re not yet in the presence of the Master he would become, at least not in this translation. But the touchstones that would define Mr. N’s obsessions are all laid out, as in dress rehearsal, for the later works – Memory, Enchantment, and the spidery web of comedy & romance that holds them to the light. And the butterflies, of course.

How can you stop reading a work of fiction that launches with this glimmering arrangement :

“…Lida sat close to the campfire with her chin propped on her hands, and with shiny, dancing eyes, reddish brown from the flames, watched the escaping sparks. Presently Martin stood up, stretched his legs, ascended a dark turfy slope, and walked to the edge of the precipice. Right under his feet he saw a broad black abyss, and beyond it the sea, which seemed to be raised and brought closer, with a full moon’s wake, the “Turkish Trail” spreading in the middle and narrowing as it approached the horizon.

To the left, in the murky, mysterious distance, shimmered the diamond lights of Yalta... and above the black alpestrine steppe, above the silken sea, the enormous, all-engulfing sky, dove-gray with stars, made one’s head spin, and suddenly Martin again experienced a feeling he had known on more than one occasion as a child: an unbearable intensification of all his senses, a magical and demanding impulse, the presence of something for which alone it was worth living

Nabokov’s familiarity with the European capitals between the wars lends a solid foundation to the exhilarating onset and rush of youth herein; the technical mash-up of time & place suit the heady pace and color of the era. Rosebuds everywhere, a lovely book.
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