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Customer Review

56 of 69 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, stunning, very, very irritating., September 1, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited (Paperback)
I have spent the summer drowning in Nabokovian puddles, but this autobiography is the least satisfactory yet. On the plus side it (naturally) contains some of the most beautiful sentences I've ever read. The seamless flow from concrete detail, scrupulous description, misty nostalgia to philosophical speculation is dizzying and inspired. The chapter on the author's mother is quite possibly the most gorgeous piece of writing in the language, but my favorite is the melancholy portrait of his uncle, a fascinating, loveable, moving character who might have enriched a novel. The battle between the natural and the human worlds are convincingly balanced, with history swooping in for final victory.
And yet Speak, Memory is fundamentally dislikeable. The tone grates: imagine a whole book written in the style of Nabokov's forewards - arrogant, didactic, humorless. That's what nearly kills it - the lack of Nabokovian playfulness. There are a couple of real-life events that are so shocking that they verge on farce, but in general the tone is reverent and uncritical, and the madness of Nabokov's greatest narrators has no place here.
The young Nabokov is thoroughly dislikeable (but then so is the Nab of the forewards), 'something of a bully' as he admits, but the episode with his brother was shameful, disgusting, and made me not want to read one of his books again. I'll get over that, but it's says something that one finds that monster Humbert more sympathetic than his creator. Of course, the narrator here isn't unadulterated Nab; he's as much a creation as any of his characters. He's just not a very interesting one, neither insane nor funny. As Michael Wood suggests, the absences in this very word-, idea-, people- and event-heavy book are some kind of a failure. What we're left with is literature's most stunning prose poem since Woolf's To The Lighthouse, with a big black hole in the centre.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 17, 2013 7:22:12 AM PDT
Christopher says:
I don't understand what you've written. You dislike the book because of the tone, which you find to be arrogant, didactic, humorless. Huh? I have never laughed so much as when reading this book. There is humor on almost every page. Sometimes it is overt humor and sometimes it is wink-and-nod humor. But there is humor. You need to read it again. As for being didactic, well, the book is after all an autobiography--there's not a lot of room for invention, unless he had started making stuff up about his own life. Yes, it's arrogant. Nabokov was a very arrogant man. You can't ask someone to be what they are not, so maybe you should just avoid Nabokov.

Posted on Jul 5, 2013 5:23:43 PM PDT
Lauren Hahn says:
Humorless?? Well, I found it quite humorous at times. Uninteresting? Did this person, "A Customer" even read the memoir? Arrogant? Good lord, do you expect a man this brilliant, from this background, to be humble and self-effacing? I enjoyed every moment that I spent in Nabokov's presence.
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