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Nabokov's Dozen: A Collection Of Thirteen Stories‏ (Anchor Literary Library) (1984)

Nabokov's Dozen: A Collection of Thirteen Stories‏ (Anchor Literary Library) (1984)
4.08 of 5 Votes: 2
0385191170 (ISBN13: 9780385191173)
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Nabokov's Dozen: A Collection Of Thir...
Nabokov's Dozen: A Collection Of Thirteen Stories‏ (Anchor Literary Library) (1984)

About book: I half-expected a Nabokovian dozen to contain one less than the norm, but no, I did the old trickster a disservice - like a baker's round dozen, this collection of assorted short stories contains a generous thirteen of the things.The first of them, the tale of a spasmodic affair of stolen moments between two married Russian exiles across twelve years and called 'Spring in Fialta' is simply wonderful, full of the idiosyncratically caressing prose that only Nabokov can conjure up. In sporting parlance, it's worth the price of admittance on its own.In 'A Forgotten Poet' the reputation of a rustic wordsmith thought dead for fifty years is resurrected by the dubious revisionism of a new, revolutionary generation, only for the celebrations to be rendered ridiculous when he turns up again out of the blue. If it is him.'Signs and Symbols', seemingly about an old couple visiting their paranoid son in a sanitarium, is no doubt much cleverer in design than I could work out, but I enjoyed it anyway. Likewise 'Time and Ebb' which could almost be considered a science fiction story, and contains this exceptional description of a child's impression of his mother, who died when he was still an infant:'I can only recall her as a vague patch of delicious lachrymal warmth just beyond the limit of iconographical memory.'Somewhat incredibly (to me), 'Lance' is also a science fiction story, albeit 'strictly an amateur performance, with quite casual stage properties and a minimum of scenery'.'That in Aleppo once...' and 'Scenes from the Life of a Double Monster' in turn focus on two of Nabakov's constant themes - the first delusion, the second the idea of the 'double'. I liked the story of a madman who or may not have been married to a madwoman for a short while, but the story of Siamese twins conjoined at the navel was a little too obvious for me.Of the rest, two of them later formed part of his autobiography, 'Speak, Memory'. 'First Love' tells of exactly that, while 'Mademoiselle O' is about the Swiss governess he and his brother had for several years. The writing of these two pieces appear more sincere than his usual way, which you would expect, but could he really recall so vividly such detailed scenes experienced through five year old eyes? Who cares, they are so exquisite.A final word for his closing statement in the Bibliographical Note at the end of my edition. He confirms that the above two stories are true to life, then concludes:'As to the rest, I am no more guilty of imitating 'real life' than 'real life' is responsible for plagiarizing me.'Well said, Vlad.

I am fond of it because I feel it in the hollow of those violaceous syllables the sweet dark dampness of the most rumpled of small flowers, and because the alto like name of a lovely Crimean town is echoed by its viola; and also because because there is something in the very somnolence of its humid Lent that especially anoints one's soul. With this story, he made me love the springtime in Fialta. Now I see why critics have argued that this story is Nabokov's lament on a lost love, an extramarital affair he had, or an ode to Russia. But really, why make assumptions because an author chooses to tell a story using the first-person, 'I?' The pulse of the distant sea, panting in the mist…the jealous green of bottle glass bristling along the top of a wall.This is all love language. Nabokov's control of prose is stunning, as usual. Though some of these short stories are not what you would expect from an average short-story collection, one only has to think of Lolita to be reminded that Nabokov never writes what is expected.The stories are dense but opulent; with themes of loneliness, sadness, exile, memory, and self-struggle present. The characters' innermost thoughts are aggrandized, becoming a part of the setting, the story, the place. Melancholy is paired with happiness and relief in the most unusual ways.There is also sex in its subtle, literary form: Her eyes rested on the lower part of my face as if she were lip reading, and after a moment of reflection, she turned and rapidly swaying on slender ankles led me along the sea-blue carpeted passage.Nabokov places no limitations on his female characters. Nina is spunky and carefree, and yet you see the struggle that both characters must face because they are being--well, too carefree. I did not yet realize the presence of the growing morbid pathos which was to embitter so my subsequent meetings with Nina, I was probably quite as collected and carefree as she was…Nina is a breath of fresh air. She was beautiful, flawed, good, kind, and selfish. All those things and more that you want to see in a realistic female character. So much so, that the main character saw her as a friend and lover, unable to properly categorize her; unable to be more, yet unwilling to be less: Again and again she hurriedly appeared in the margins of my life, without influencing in the least its basic text.
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More than anything else, Nabokov writes about words. His best work balances gracefully the referential and other functions of language, so that the text is both a world in itself (with puns, ironies, bot mots, and so on) and a window to the fictional world it describes (with characters, feelings, other ironies, and the like).That's an oversimplification, I know, but the point is this: in reading these stories, I felt like the text was opaque. Each piece was lovely in itself, but that very loveliness obscured its "point." The thing made a better door than window.Once in a while a passage would resolve itself into a unit of meaning, and invariably that meaning was profoundly beautiful (hence the three stars). But then it would fade as suddenly as it had appeared, technical prowess replacing aesthetic vision as the author's most salient characteristic. (Fans of Classical music, think of a cadenza in a Mozart concerto).Overall, then, while I imagine that annotating this book would be a delightful exercise, reading it was something else altogether.
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