Hamish's Reviews > The Original of Laura

The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov
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's review
Jul 02, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: lit

Nabokov has eighteen other novels, a memoir, a large collection of short stories, a book of plays and several books of lectures. Unless you have read EVERY SINGLE ONE of them, The Original of Laura is not worth your time. Every single one of those books was completed and deemed fit for publication by the author and, with no exceptions, they are all better than this. I notice there is a tendency among the reading public to immediately jump on any new book by an established author, especially if there is an interesting story behind it. So we get a lot of people who have probably only read Lolita buying this--a collection of about fifty pages of what would have been a much larger work, without a coherent structure and only the hint of a plot--and getting very frustrated and probably feeling a little ripped off. I know this has the sheen of newness, but unless you're a legit Nabokov scholar this is probably going to be of very little interest to you. Go read Pale Fire or Speak, Memory instead. Or any of his other books for that matter. I promise they're all MUCH better.

Hell, I've read all of the aforementioned works and I still found this to be frustrating. In the introduction, Dimitri Nabokov (the author's son) defends his decision to publish a work in the most rudimentary stages of production and that the author asked to be destroyed on his death by comparing it to Kafka. I don't buy it. True, The Castle and The Trial weren't finished, but they were at least complete enough to provide a satisfying read. The Original of Laura is in too early of a stage and resembles little more than a half-completed skeleton with a few pieces of muscle hanging precariously from its bones. If this were published as bonus material at the end of an existing work (The Enchanter would be a good choice since that was also a posthumously published work), similar to the sketches at the end of Kafka's Complete Stories, you would judge it simply as an interesting curiosity piece or as a tantalizing glimpse of what could have been. But publishing it on its own forces the reader to judge it as an individual work, which is unfair to the material.

It's especially frustrating because there are some neat passages and some hints at what N was going to do. There are a few bits that imply the novel would have been full of the usual Nabokov trickery that makes his work so engaging, fun and re-readable. But as hints of something we'll never be able to see in completed form it's almost cruel. There are also some passages that are borderline incomprehensible, things I'm sure N would have cleaned up or thrown out entirely. And that's what bothers me about this project: We're seeing something N didn't want us to see. This was a man with meticulously high standards and it seems in poor taste to make public work he himself deemed to be below those standards.

I feel guilty giving this two stars. Nabokov is my favorite writer and I don't think he ever published a work that was less than good. I have no doubt that if he had been able to finish The Original of Laura it would have been a worthwhile novel, but in its present form it's nothing more than a tantalizing but frustrating glimpse into the working method of one of the all-time greats.
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message 1: by MariNaomi (new)

MariNaomi I do so adore your reviews, Hamish! I just read this one--and your Unbearable Lightness of Being review--aloud to Gary.

Hamish MariNaomi wrote: "I do so adore your reviews, Hamish! I just read this one--and your Unbearable Lightness of Being review--aloud to Gary."

yay, someone reads them! thanks, mari!

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