Hamish's Reviews > Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle

Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov
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Apr 02, 12

bookshelves: re-read-lit, lit

I first read Ada after I had become smitten with Pale Fire and Lolita. I was colossally disappointed, hated the book and almost gave up on Nabokov (but then discovered Speak, Memory which returned him to my favor). N has since become my favorite writer and, after devouring all of his other novels, I decided to give this one a second chance. Plus that was many years ago and I think I had some questionable opinions back then.

At first I had the same reaction. What I usually love N for is his rich, playful, pleasing prose. In Ada he seemed to replace the fun aspect of his writing with a never-ending series of irritating puns, sequences in other languages, willful obscurity and unpleasingly convoluted sentence structure (kind of like late-period Henry James, though not THAT bad). Reading became like a class you don't want to attend, but do anyway because you need the credits. There's a part where Van and Ada come up with a code to exchange secret letters. If you go back a few pages, you can decipher a phrase written in that code. The phrase is pretty unimportant and doesn't really contribute at all to your enjoyment, but maybe for a second you feel clever for figuring it out. That's sort of a metaphor for N's writing style here: it's kinda clever but doesn't really give you much to reward the effort you put in.

But about halfway through the novel the prose seems to snap back to that style we know and love. Reading becomes a joy again. And even when I had problems with the style, I still loved the story and characters. N almost seems to be intentionally courting controversy (Lolita-style) by having his novel star two siblings on a lifelong romance. But there's no real moral issue here. They may flaunt our cultural (and biological) norms, but we never really feel like they're doing anything wrong (unlike Humbert Humbert). It's charming and endearing and you get a little lump in your throat watching them get old together.

At times it's a slog, but eventually it becomes worth it. I don't agree with those that say this is one of N's best (I can think of at least ten of his novels that are better), but it's still worth your time. Just save it until you've read a fair bit of his work. Equal parts frustration and joy (well, probably a little more joy).
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message 1: by MariNaomi (new)

MariNaomi I really love your reviews.


Hamish Thanks, Mari :)


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