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Despair

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  7,664 ratings  ·  497 reviews
Extensively revised by Nabokov in 1965 - thirty years after its original publication -Despair is the wickedly inventive and richly derisive story of Hermann Karlovich, a man who undertakes the perfect crime - his own murder.
Paperback, 212 pages
Published May 14th 1989 by Vintage (first published 1934)
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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 ·  7,664 ratings  ·  497 reviews


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Adam Dalva
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Intensely good writing, with the unique Nabokovian feature of phrases we've never heard before somehow moving propulsively. Unfortunately, after a promising start, the plot turns flimsy, with the "twist" at the end telegraphed far too often to be anything other than a disappointment. This is an iceberg novel, but what's beneath the surface (the book jacket copy) is likely more interesting than the ramblings of our lead, Hermann, who (in the Zweigian conceit of the novel) has written and sent the ...more
Steven Godin
He's only gone and done it again. What Prose!
What truly admirable prose!

A literary virtuoso was he! I bow down to you in awe Vlad!

OK, maybe I'm getting a little over excited, and maybe he didn't hit the vast heights of Lolita or Pale Fire, but he still manages with Despair to write a prose head and shoulders above most other writers I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I can't think of any other writer (at least off the top of my head) that brings me such joyous literary moments than that sp
...more
Michael
Sep 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wild, wicked, stylish, funny, in only the way Nabokov could write. On every page you sense the fun he's having, and boy, is it infectious.
Mike Puma
Jan 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, russian-author

Just a word or so on this one—then a warning of sorts. Neither will be particularly useful, and neither should be given much weight. If your Read list is lacking an adequate Nabokov presence, if it lacks gravitas, pick this up, read it, pat yourself on the back, give it the obligatory 4 stars, and try to forget, as quickly as you can, that you saw the ending coming. It’s Nabokov, it matters, probably more than you will; certainly, more than I. There are funny bits, and sinister bits, and clever

...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Wow. This is the most arrogant, self-aggrandizing, intellectually
snooty indictment of literary criticism I've ever read. Wow. This is the most self-flagellating, masochistically interior, intellectually crushing self-indictment I've ever read by an artist. What a contradiction. What a clever little motherfucker. What a way to illuminate the disconnect between self and perception-of-self by others, of artistic expression v. reception.

How dare you be you. I'm glad you're dead, Vladimir Nabokov*. N
...more
Violet wells
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Our fabulously droll narrator is out for a stroll when he sees someone asleep under a tree. He nudges the sleeper's face with his foot and has the shock of his life. He is looking down at his own face.

Nabokov's narrator, we soon learn, lives in a kind of hall of mirrors. And who wouldn't go insane in such an abode? And he has lots of fun playing with the notion that art mirrors life or vice versa. Our hero plots a murder as a work of art. Every detail required to serve the execution of the cent
...more
Kalliope


Little silly kalliope, upon entering the pages of this despairing novel, wonders at her existence. This is all about her, or rather, about not being herself at all, but just the unoriginal existence of doubles. How come is she called like the Grand Kalliope, the Muse? They are clearly not the same. One is the doppelgänger of the other. She is clearly not the ‘one’, so she must be the ‘other’? But how can she refer to herself as the ‘other’? This baffles her and sends her mind into a spiral. She
...more
Sarah
Dec 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
Only one author on earth can produce from me the following sentence: “Yeah, I’m reading this book called Despair about an insane murderer with no respect for human life, and it is HILARIOUS.” That author is Nabokov.

In this, one of his lesser-known works, the egotistical and foppish narrator confesses to murdering someone who looks exactly like him in an attempt to collect his own life insurance money (and, more subconsciously, to rid the world of his weird doppelganger). Of course, Vladdy isn’t
...more
David
Nov 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: oulipo-mo, whodunnit
Vladimir Nabokov is a genius. In Lolita his genius is manifest in the perversion of human sympathies, the seduction of language, the durability of art (yet also the mortality of beauty). In Despair, one of Nabokov's first forays into English prose, there is an early adumbration of what will become the enchanting monster, Humbert Humbert, found in the narrator-murderer Hermann. But aside from the faint outline of what is to come, Despair is a brilliant novel in itself, removed from the nympholept ...more
Stian
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
That's it for my seventh Nabokov -- Despair, or Отчаяние, a "far more sonorous howl", as Nabokov writes in the introduction to the work. This represents Nabokov's "first serious attempt to use English for what may be loosely termed an artistic purpose."

The writing is, as you kind of expect from Nabokov, stellar. The story is interesting, and it does not require as much from the reader as some of his other books do -- indeed, Nabokov writes that the book has a "plain structure and pleasing plot.
...more
Tom Mathews
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of classic crime fiction.
True confession: I have never read a Vladimir Nabokov novel until now. A month ago the only one of his novels that I could name was Lolita. While I’m sure it is a good book (165,000 GR readers can’t all be wrong), books with pedophiles as main characters don’t usually make it to the top of my TBR list so I was interested in finding another Nabokov book that would give me a taste of this renowned author’s style.

Enter Despair.

The title of this novel is deceiving. One would expect that a novel na
...more
Vonia
Aug 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Despair (Russian: Otchayanie) 
Author: Vladimir Nabokov 
Read: 8/7/20 
Rating: 4.5/5 

Poem Review. Pleiades poems have a single word title, followed by a single 7-line stanza. The only requirement is that the first word in each line must begin with the same letter as the title.

**** Spoilers **** 


"Dis-pair" 

Despite a nonlinear plot and a conversational narrative style prone to digressions and rambling, 

Despicable narrator has a beguiling personality that readers can't help but be captivated by. 

Dupl
...more
Invidia
Jan 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I hate Nabokov. He's a bleedin' megalomaniac interested in nothing other than proclaiming the invention of paper and ink as an exclusive gift to himself.

I take deep breaths of exasperation reading every fourth sentence this guy writes. What, can he just go on playing with my feelings? As if he's never gonna call back? He's not, is he?

Despair was just such a declaration. Fool tries to fool people, and you say, "Ah! This is his first book. It'll show his immaturity and I'll not have to gasp in pai
...more
Chrissie
Seriously, I didn't like this. Yeah, I like how Vladimir Nabokov writes but this book just doesn't have the sparkle, the humor or the polished writing of Lolita or Speak, Memory or other books by the author. It feels like a piece that still needs more work….or maybe you can work something to death. Look at the history of this book. Despair first came out in 1934 as a serial in the Russian literary journal Sovremennye. It was published as a book in 1936, translated by the author into English in 1 ...more
Bettie
Re-visit 2016 is the film recommended by Karen.

Plotline: The narrator and protagonist of the story, Hermann Karlovich, a Russian of German descent and owner of a chocolate factory, meets a homeless man in the city of Prague, whom he believes is his doppelgänger. Even though Felix, the supposed doppelgänger, is seemingly unaware of their resemblance, Hermann insists that their likeness is most striking. Hermann is married to Lydia, a sometimes silly and forgetful wife (according to Hermann) who h
...more
Nancy Oakes
Mar 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Thoughts forthcoming; for now, yes! An amazing novel. I have a feeling it will take a while for me to go over it in my head, so stay tuned.
Rose Auburn
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have not read Nabokov for quite a while. The writing is so unlike most other writing with long periods of complete existential genius. There are times where it becomes too clever and divergent just to showcase Nabokov's writing talent (I feel) which, I don't blame him and, which, provided flashes of utter brilliance.

At the beginning of the novel, I felt a more linear narrative would have reined in some of the unwieldy flights of fancy but towards the end I realised that the disjointed (underst
...more
Adam Floridia
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nabokov
Doubles. Doppelgangers. Duplicity. Distortion. A Demented disposition. Deviation. Deflections. Disguise. Disorder. Design. Deception. Deftness. Dynamic descriptions. And Art. That’s Despair.

That pretty much covers the novel proper. It starts as such a wonderful meta-fiction whose “author” is a real nutter with the absolute least sense of “self” ever (ironically, he, of course, feels that he is totally self-aware with a complete understanding of not only his identity, but of others’). Despite th
...more
Daniel Chaikin
Sep 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Hermann strains the reader up front - his arrogance combined with his twisting of grammatical limits, his claims of how boring this all is...it's all very forced and uncomfortable for the reader, and also, of course, still readable and captivating enough. First he tells us how brilliant he is, then tells us about his double he found - a lookalike. That a Russian émigré living in Berlin would find a lookalike in a Czech hobo should immediately catch our attention.

As the book evolves, the reader
...more
Kinga
Aug 23, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pub-1934
The first part of it was tedious. I could see Nabokov was a great writer but still, it was tedious. I struggled through first 80-90 pages and was awarded for my efforts with a brilliant second part of the book. I was actually sitting on the tube going to work, reading it and muttering to myself "Oh, brilliant, brilliant".

Hermann is such a perverse narrator. He plays with you and he is not to be trusted. One of the very few books when I felt I created a relationship with the narrator.
Don't be mi
...more
Cody
Apr 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nabo-wabo
The discerning reader of my Nabokov reviews will have undoubtedly noticed how they are shelved. “Nabo-Wabo” is, indeed, a tip of the hat to two unparalleled language masters of the 20th-century. The first, of course, is Vladimir Nabokov himself. The second, as you have so obviously deduced (clever bastards), is Monsieur Samuel “Sammy” Hagar—late of international stardom as the robin-haired vocalist-frontman of one Van Halen and champion of all things Cabo San Lucas, aka “Cabo Wabo” in Hagarese. ...more
Smiley
Mar 30, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nabokov, novel
3.75-star

I found reading this unique novel (written in Russian then translated into English himself) arguably enjoyable since I've admired and respected his literary stature and fame, one of my trio authors; the other two being W. Somerset Maugham [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Some...] and Graham Greene (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graham_...), whose most of their published works I've long enjoyed reading with less fuss while exploring their second to none expertise as professionally imagi
...more
John Pappas
Mar 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Nobody writes like Nabokov. Nobody can ape his style, or fake his psychological acuity, both of which are on pyrotechnic display here. Taking us on a winding journey through self-aggrandizing memories and fantasies, Nabokov's pompous and foppish narrator carefully and gradually, but also gleefully and proudly, reveals his plot to fake his own death by killing his double. Though ostensibly the motive is to gain the insurance money, Hermann, the narrator, has deeper and more chilling motives. An a ...more
Megan
There are so many *wink* *nudge* moments that if it were anyone but Nabokov I'd backhand them right across the face.

Love that Hermann's tale ends on April 1st ;)
Darwin8u
Sep 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
While this isn't my favorite Nabokov novel and I have to leave room and stars for its better, it is stil bold and amazing. Nabokov is one of those writers I will never tire of. He is imaginative, funny, tight and always just a little naughty. Despair is a false double novel that at once mocks, parodies and honors Crime & Punishment. It was like Nabokov set out to write a fanciful doppelgänger novel of Crime and Punishment, but felt like he would prefer to dress Raskolnikov up a bit; bend the mir ...more
Jasmine
Jan 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: russian
So I don't really know about this book. I mean I've read books where the plot is secondary, but in this book it feels a bit more like the plot is not only irrelevant but fighting to be included. You know that slime you play with as a kid that when you hit it it's hard as a rock, but when you go slow you kind of ooze through it. Well the plot of this book is exactly like that. It is trying really really hard to get through the sort of weird rambling, I think I am the best thing since well anythin ...more
Disco Mo
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Don't play with yourself.
Brett
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yet another classic example of an unreliable narrator, Nabokov's brilliant novel, Despair, revolves around a megalomanic who plots his own murder. The prose contained within are exceptional, unlike any I have ever read, with a styling so unique that Nabokov is able to lead his audience into the depths of the depraved mind with ease. Indeed, the content of and foreword to Despair make clear that Nabokov has a love and command of language that is unmatched. That the English version I read was tran ...more
RJ
Oct 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Writers, Fans of Law and Order: Criminal Intent
The spoils of Nabokov's love of language are in fine form in "Despair," complete with the wordplay, metafictive elements, and literary devices -- all exaggerated to an impressive and hilarious extent -- that you'd expect from our literary genius/mad scientist.

"Despair" in a nutshell: at one point, the novel's author -- who never published the novel himself, but merely sent the manuscript to Mr. Nabokov -- weighs the benefits of this or that name for his novel. "Crime and Pun" is one of the titl
...more
Ramybe
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, prose, 4-star, russian
So much fun. When you write as good as Nabokov did, doesn't really matter what you write about, lolita or this absurd satire crime diary.
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level_bo: Книга мая (2015) - Отчаяние 31 85 May 21, 2015 05:01AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect page number for Despair 7 23 Apr 06, 2015 04:02AM  
Catching up on Cl...: Despair SPOILERS 3 51 Oct 09, 2014 02:01PM  
Catching up on Cl...: Despair: NO Spoilers 9 51 Oct 09, 2014 01:54PM  
Catching up on Cl...: Despair: Introduction & Background 9 36 Sep 04, 2013 04:20PM  
Nabokov in Three ...: Impressions 1 10 Feb 08, 2012 06:11AM  

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Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков .

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery, and had a big interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequ
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