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Despair Paperback – May 14, 1989
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Nabokov draws out the metaphor between murder and art all the way to the eerie conclusion of *Despair* and his self-conscious narrator is the perfect mouthpiece for expounding the central theme: the art of crime and the crime of art. Vain, egotistical, insecure, capricious...Hermann is the quintessential unreliable narrator, a self-admitted liar from childhood who lies simply for the pure creative joy of it. An artist, in other words...and, in this case, an author. Hermann creates fictions and his murder plot will be his `masterpiece,' except there are always a few flaws in any masterpiece and critics aplenty to point them out. In the case of murder, the critics are the police and a bad review means arrest, imprisonment, and possibly a death sentence.
*Despair,* in spite of its title, is a lot of fun, poking fun as it does at the conventions of the novel even as it exploits each and every one of them. In a sense, it's a book about writing as much, if not more than, the murder that is actually being written about.Read more ›
Nabokov's forward tells us that it was originally written in Russian while he was living in Berlin in 1934. There was an early, clumsy translation to English; then, in 1965, the final one. Nabokov describes it this way: "The ecstatic love of a young writer for the old writer he will be some day is ambition in its purest form. The love is not reciprocated by the older man in his larger library, for even if he does recall with regret a naked palate and a rheumless eye, he has nothing but an impatient shrug for the bungling apprentice of his youth." The novel hasn't even started yet and already the reader finds a big grin crossing his face.
It is written in the first person by a German businessman, who, while walking in an unpopulated area one day, comes across a hobo who, to his surprise, looks exactly like him. The plot has to do with a scheme our narrator concocts then implements to use this unusual resemblance for his own unscrupulous monetary gain. It would not be prudent to give away more. Though it is a rather familiar formula, let's just say that it is nevertheless very intriguing but ultimately logical in its surprisingly unsurprising denouement.
As usual with the Nabokov novel there is a lot more going on than initially meets the eye. Our narrator, fascinated by his scheme and by his own perceived cleverness, views his plan as a work of art. He comments that all art and great art especially is based on deception.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Every single high school student should read this book. Particularly those currently enamored with the suddenly attractive sheen of Socialism.Published 2 months ago by Fred M. Jeffers
This piece of early Nabokov, pre WWII but revised many years later, is narrated by a lunatic. The language is very entertaining, but the plot drags.Published 11 months ago by Bruce Henricksen
Nobokov's writing was highly anticipated. I found this book a bit disappointing. Plot line was simplistic and predictable. Not one I would recommend to others as a worthy read.Published 22 months ago by Shirley Musich
This book is good. The print and the cover are both simple but inspiring. Plus, the price is totally acceptable.Published on April 28, 2013 by Tuan Jung Chang
It is always dangerous to form preconceptions about a book before reading it. When a reader's expectations about what a book is going to be are dashed, as they often are, it tends... Read morePublished on November 25, 2012 by Brian C.
The main character of "Despair" stumbles upon a perfect double, a literary tramp of sorts, and draws him into his murder plot- one that leaves many corpses in its wake. Read morePublished on July 13, 2012 by Bjejune
Even though this is neither his best known or most polished work it is better than 99% of the current crop of what passes for literary fiction. Highly recommended.Published on April 19, 2012 by BlueDog
The first two-thirds of this novel are slow going. "Despair" is an accurate description of what I experienced while slogging through it, although "Ennui" might be closer to the... Read morePublished on January 7, 2012 by gormenghast