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Vladimir Nabokov is a writer who always makes it into my top 3 favourite authors regardless of my mood, the time of year or who's asking. nabokov(The others vying for the top three spots are, in case you were asking, Joseph Conrad, John Irving, Mervyn Peake and John Dos Passos). Nabokov is best known, of course, for "Lolita". I have thoroughly enjoyed the novel several times (and I was a little surprised to read recently of an earlier very similar story by an unknown German author), but for me, "Pale Fire" and "Ada" are his sublime masterpieces.

It took me a while to get hold of a copy of "Pnin", a novella of linked short stories written near the very end of "Lolita"'s difficult composition. Had I found it earlier than I did, I might have been too young, too unformed, to have appreciated the extraordinarily fine prose written in -- stunningly -- the author's third or fourth language.

Earlier this week, the Guardian Online printed an edited abstract of David Lodge's introduction to the Everyman's Library edition of "Pnin". Lodge rightly marvels at Nabokov's felicity with a new language, noting in particular Nabokov's ability to construct a perfect extended metaphor. He quotes the account of Pnin's reaction to having his teeth extracted:

"It surprised him to realize how fond he had been of his teeth. His tongue, a fat sleek seal, used to flop and slide so happily among the familiar rocks, checking the contours of a battered but still secure kingdom, plunging from cave to cove, climbing this jag, nuzzling that notch, finding a shred of sweet seaweed in the same old cleft but now not a landmark remained, and all there existed was a great dark wound, a terra incognita of gums which dread and disgust forbade one to investigate."
Reading this review has ensured that "Pnin" will be on my summer's re-read list.

May 14, 2004 in Literature, Nabokov_Vladimir | Permalink


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