Adam Floridia's Reviews > The Gift

The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov
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's review
Dec 03, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: nabokov
Read in February, 2011

Just one sentence on only the 2nd page:

"With a practiced eye he searched it for something that would become a daily sore spot, a daily torture for his senses, but there seemed to be nothing of that sort in the offing, and the diffuse light of the gray spring day was not only above suspicion but even promised to mollify any trifle that in more brilliant weather would not fail to crop up; this could be anything: the color of a building, for instance, that immediately provoked an unpleasant taste in the mouth, a smack of oatmeal, or even halvah; an architectural detail that effusively caught one’s attention every time one passed by; the irritating sham of a caryatid, a hanger-on and not a support, which, even under a lighter burden, would crumble into plaster dust; or, on a tree trunk, fastened to it by a rusty thumbtack, a pointless but perpetually preserved corner of a notice in longhand (runny ink, blue runaway dog) that had outlived its usefulness but had not been fully torn off; or else an object in a shop window, or a smell that refused at the last moment to yield a memory it had seemed ready to shout, and remained instead on its street corner, a mystery withdrawn into itself."

A great metaphor and meditation on life/death:

“Funny that I have thought of death all my life, and if I have lived, have lived only in the margin of a book I have never been able to read….[Like someone who] would take out a library book in a language he didn’t know, make notes in it and leave it lying about so visitors would think: He knows Portuguese, Aramaic…Happiness, sorrow—exclamation marks en marge, while the context is absolutely unknown” (311).

A dying man says, “‘What nonsense. Of course there is nothing afterwards.’ He sighed, listened to the trickling and drumming outside the window and repeated with extreme distinctness: ‘There is nothing. It is as clear as the fact that it is raining.’
And meanwhile outside the spring sun was playing on the roof tiles, the sky was dreamy and cloudless, the tenant upstairs was watering the flowers on the edge of her balcony, and the water trickled down with a drumming sound” (312).

And that's why I love Nabokov.
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Reading Progress

01/22/2011 page 20
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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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Geoff In my opinion, this should be a priority read. It is one of those books that colors and accents every day since I have read it.

Geoff yes yes yes and there is so much more of that in there.

Adam Floridia The only problem is that with sentences like that this book will take me five months to finish! (Especially should I pause to savor each one...)

Geoff yeah but that's going to be a great five month experience.

Eric Nice! This novel needs more partisans!

Geoff For some reason this one doesn't attract the attention of his other masterpieces like Lolita or Pale Fire, or even Ada (which it is greatly superior to), perhaps because of the autobiographical elements and the (slight) need to understand a bit about Russia Abroad in Berlin to completely "get" everything going on. But damn it, this and Speak, Memory are my favorite Nabokovs!

Geoff Oh and Adam, if you want an interesting and original take on Nabokov in America, you should read Eric's review of Walt Whitman's Specimen Days:

just fucking splendid.

message 8: by Eric (last edited Jan 19, 2011 02:45PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric Hey thanks Geoff! Somewhere in the American Years, Boyd quotes a reviewer of the English translation of The Gift as saying that he was now convinced that Nabokov was no mere succès de scandale but a genius for all time. Someone who couldn't reach that conclusion from Lolita alone is a strange testifier to invoke (Pnin and the translation of Invitation to a Beheading were available then, too), but there it is.

Adam Floridia Why is the color yellow used so frequently? (Or is it that I just noticed that color a few times in the beginning and have now become fixated on it, noticing its occurrence more than I do any other color?)

message 10: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Floridia I was making great progress, but the chapter bio of Chernyshevsky is really slowing me down. Not a fan of that section. Did you like it?

Geoff Yes, thought it was the centerpiece of the book, indispensable. His criticism of Chernyshevsky is a mirror to the character of Godunov-Cherdyntsev, and a defense of art for the sake art rather than art that serves an ideology or state or philosophy. The biography of Chernyshevsky is what the whole of The Gift orbits around. I found it to be absolutely brilliant and necessary.

message 12: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Floridia "Yes, thought it was the centerpiece of the book, indispensable."

I sort of figured that, yet I still couldn't stay focused while reading it. So many completely foreign names and references for me that I kept zoning out. I, ashamedly, didn't bother re-reading or looking them up.

Geoff Put in that research son!

message 14: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Floridia So reading the critical reviews of Godunov-Cherdynstev's book (the ones in the following chapter of The Gift) made me immediately appreciate the bio more. By criticizing everything that it's not, they helped me realize what it is. I actually found the criticisms comical.

Also, the final chapter moves so swiftly into some deep, yet whimsical meditations on death that are just brilliant! Needless to say, I'll be done in a couple of hours

Geoff Oh yeah! By the way, I'm jealous you have time during the day to read. I get an hour at lunch and then whatever I can cram into my evening while taking care of a thousand other things. Never are there enough hours in a day.

message 16: by Adam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adam Floridia I agree with that--the weather here (akin to last winter for you) has shut everything down and confined me to the house with my books!

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