Another terrific read by Nabokov, I have yet to be disappointed by his novels. This one follows a chess player, but you don’t have to know a single thing about how to play chess in order to enjoy it. It’s more about the mental states, and how imagining all the possible outcomes in a game can send your brain down an unending maze of possibilities.
Aside from Nabokov’s usual wonderful prose and lovable characters, I found the slow, creeping insanity that Luzhin endures to be very believable and a bit unsettling. And even though I saw the end coming, that didn’t lessen the impact and effectiveness of it.
Another great read, and anyone who hasn’t read Nabokov please pick up one of his books, you won’t regret it!
I’ve been reading The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, and am finding myself generally annoyed with it, and had some curiosity why, since it seems like the kind of humor I used to really enjoy, in ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ for example.
I think the difference is that in Hitchhiker, things that appear random at first are explained later as part of the plot, in a sensible way that makes the seemingly random first encounter even more funny. Whereas in the Third Policeman, nothing ever seems related to anything else. I feel that I could open the book at any point and start reading, and have basically the same experience of confusion and general unease.
The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of things don’t always have to be answered for me. I have a pretty low threshold for sense, I think, compared to most people. But what I want is for what’s happening to at least have some effect on the character, or on me the reader.
The character in Third Policeman seems affected by nothing, even when told he’s going to be executed the next morning, he only has a sort of halfhearted protest to it, and general idea that he might try to escape.
There were several times that things have been interesting to me, the reader, but had no bearing on the story and no seeming overall affect on the character. Those were fine I guess, but it’s like reading a disconnected series of essays on weird thoughts, more than reading a novel. Which would be fine, if it didn’t present itself as a novel right off the bat by giving the character a clear goal and a clear obstacle to overcome… then just completely disregarding them and jumping headlong into random nonsense for the rest of the book…
I have one chapter left, maybe it will all tie together in the end but I somehow doubt it.
The Plague has been getting more interesting. One part I enjoyed was, as the characters are now all quarantined inside the town, and death is all around, one character is sitting in his house trying to write a book, and rewriting the same sentence for days and weeks, trying to find just the right words. He’s asking his friends for advice, agonizing over it, switching out words for similar ones, and then putting them back, and so on. All while hundreds of people are dying all around him every day.
But we’re all dying, right? Even if these characters survive the plague, they’ll just die five or ten or twenty years later. So why not spend your time fussing over the first sentence of a book you’ll never write?
Life is strange…
Every time I finish a particularly difficult book, be it bad, or odd, or just confusing, I take a break with a Nabokov novel. They are always so clear and crisp and enjoyable, it’s like drinking a nice glass of cool water after a tiring time in the sun.
This time I’m reading the Luzhin Defense, the story of an anti-social, obsessive chess player who goes mad. As all Nabokov novels I’ve so far read, it is just a joy, and the prose is so delicious, my brain thanks me in much the way in thanks me for a good meal. And it always makes me smile, with little bits like this for example:
Little Luzhin would go away, trailing his satchel over the carpet; Luzhin senior would lean his elbow on the desk, where he was writing one of his usual stories in blue exercise books (a whim which, perhaps, some future biographer would appreciate), and listen to the monologue in the neighboring dining room, to his wife’s voice persuading the silence to drink a cup of cocoa.
Can you not just see that so clearly… the over optimistic father, the pouty child and coddling mother… all in just a few sentences.
Something about the way he writes is just very enjoyable and smilingly good for me…
What did I just read? I’m not quite sure.
At the end it became slightly intelligible that the POV character was of some higher or lower form of consciousness, and had a brain procedure performed on him. So that sheds a bit of light on the bizarre and confusing way this story was told.
One way to describe it is as a stream of consciousness of someone who is mentally unstable.
Some of the descriptions and ideas are quite beautiful and thoughtful, but they take a bit of work and thinking to figure out what the heck is being described sometimes.
Definitely not a book you can read without some effort, but I found the trouble to be worth it in the end.