MJ Nicholls's Reviews > The Luzhin Defense

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov
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Jul 30, 11

bookshelves: novels, borscht-and-kvass, tortured-artists, penguin-classics
Read from May 16 to 18, 2011

Hands-up: I read some of this at bullet-train speed because I had to return it to the library. Yes, I could have withdrawn it again, but there were only fifty-odd pages left and some new Foster Wallace was in that set my hands a-twitchin’ and my brain a-spinnin’.

So I didn’t let the sumptuous prose slowly unfold, I didn’t delicately caress his sentences with the same narcissistic mania the author bestowed upon his own works. But there wasn’t much sumptuousness here, anyway. His third novel is a more straightforward work, plump with overlong descriptions and meandering scenes between unconvincing characters.

Mrs Luzhin in particular (Emily Watson in the film—delicious) doesn’t seem a convincing spouse, nor does her attraction to the über-tortured chess-whizz Luzhin (John Turturro in the film—delicious) seem particularly well-rationalised, outside his general weird-genius aura. Luzhin stumbles through the novel like Rain Man, driven mad by trying to solve an impossible chess problem and his general uselessness as a human being.

Surprising how people cite Luzhin as a ‘warmer’ Nabokov character: I couldn’t stand his drivelling idiocy, and the intrigue for me fell to the way he was going to crush Mrs Luzhin’s heart. The title also seems to refer to how Mrs L defends Luzhin in the eyes of her parents, how she keeps him in expensive mini-breaks with scenic greenery. Lucky for some.

If you happen to be a chess genius, however, this is probably the greatest book you’ll ever read. (Chess memoirs excluded—that’s cheating).
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Manny If you happen to be a chess genius, however, this is probably the greatest book you’ll ever read. (Chess memoirs excluded—that’s cheating).

Garry Kasparov is too smart for you. His memoirs are cunningly disguised as the entire history of the game of chess, which evidently only existed in order to create him...


message 4: by MJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

MJ Nicholls Sounds like a humble guy. Special mention too should go to Life: A User's Manual, the best chessily structured novel ever.


Apollo's Crow It was actually Nabokov himself who called this the "warmest" of his Russian novels. He is referring to Luzhin's vulnerability and doomed sensitivity. If you've read his other Russian work (Glory, The Eye, King Queen Knave), there is something to that claim.

Also, the "defense" metaphor has to do with Luzhin's defense against the world, not specifically his wife's parents - a defense which ultimately fails. Luzhin experiences life a a chess game, and in the end he finds himself in mate. The character was actually based on an ill-fated chess master that Nabokov knew in Berlin.


message 2: by MJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

MJ Nicholls Thanks for the info, AC. Maybe Vlad had a raised eyebrow when he used the word warm in regard to one of his novels. A bit like Dostoevsky calling one of his novels cosy fun.


Apollo's Crow Ha, maybe. I kind of picture Nabokov's eyebrow perpetually raised.


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