Whenever I’ve read something boring or confusing, or just plain bad, I read some Nabokov as my next, cause it’s guaranteed to be good. This time I read Pnin, and as always, it was beautiful, funny, and just lovely.
Pnin is a Russian living in America, and teaching Russian at a college. He is absent minded in a humorous, lovable way–the story starts off with him on the wrong train, and all other kinds of mistakes occur, on his way to give a lecture. Pnin was written at the same time as Lolita, and was a sort of break from the darkness for Nabokov. Pnin is the polar opposite of Humbert, and is the most likable, identifiable, and purely good character Nabokov has ever created.
As in every book I’ve read by Nabokov, this one also has an unreliable narrator. However, the narrator is not Pnin himself, but someone telling us about Pnin, the identity of who we don’t learn until the end of the novel. Unlike Humbert, who paints himself as amazing in every way, this narrator paints Pnin as clumsy, oafish, and silly. We learn over time though, that the narrator doesn’t have the best memory, and many things are contradicted by Pnin himself when the two finally meet at the end of the story.
This was an enjoyable, smiling kind of read, and even though I didn’t pick up on what was going on until the end, I enjoyed it just for the writing itself. Nabokov always makes me smile, but in this one it was almost constant.