Barbara's Reviews > Invitation to a Beheading

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
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's review
Oct 01, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: classics, kafkaesque
Read from September 26 to October 01, 2011

The novel opens with the death sentence of one Cincinnatus C. You have love a writer who baits his reader on the second page of the novel:

"So we are nearing the end. The right-hand, still untasted part of the novel, which, during our delectable reading, we would lightly feel, mechanically testing whether there were still plenty left (and our fingers were always gladdened by the placid, faithful thickness) has suddenly, for no reason at all, become quite meager: a few minutes of quick reading, and already downhill, and--O horrible!"

Fortunately, for the devoted reader, the rest of the novel does not disappoint. We live through Cin-cin's last days in prison, condemned to death for the sin of gnostical turpitude, a sort of spiritual depravity. He is, quite simply, different. And so his crime is one of non-conformity, so monstrous it must be whispered and is punishable by death: An oppressive society must surgically remove its cancer. So we follow Cincinnatus through isolation, resentment, despair, fear, and epiphany. In fact, we watch Cincinnatus proceed through Kubler Ross's five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Whether intentional or not, Nabokov nailed it first.

The comparisons to Kafka are unavoidable. Kafka's The Trial is brilliantly dark, brooding, and anxious. Nabokov treats similar themes with a lighter touch--Invitation to a Beheading feels more farcical, and the ending is suffused with hope, instead of animalistic violence. In terms of prose, Nabokov gets the edge, but overall I thought that The Trial was better executed (pun intended), even though Kafka never completed it. I can only imagine if he had. But I'm glad I read both novels, since both are marvelous.

And I really liked the spider.


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