Speak, Nabokov

by Michael Maar
from n+1

Playboy supposedly paid the highest advance in its history for the right to serialize the work. The offer was made sight unseen. One would rather not imagine the long faces when Laura finally lays bare her scant charms.

For thirty years there were whispers about Laura. The manuscript that the dying author in 1977 told his family to destroy was not the Holy Grail, but the final king’s chamber in the pyramid of an oeuvre that rises stunningly from the literature of the twentieth century. After decades of hesitation, Nabokov’s son Dmitri is about to present the opus posthumum to the public: not a novel, but 138 hand-written, often fragmentary index cards, which form perhaps a third of what can be described at most as the adumbration of a novel.

The son’s hesitation was only too understandable: Nabokov’s last will actually left no room for interpretation. The writer was prudish in matters of unfinished manuscripts and didn’t want to give people a peek into his workshop. On the other hand: What about his famous predecessors from Virgil to Kafka, whose testamentary instructions were likewise disobeyed, to the benefit of posterity? And hadn’t Nabokov once attempted to incinerate Lolita itself, only to be thwarted by his wife? Perhaps in the case of Laura, too, Nabokov would have reconsidered his decision, which might have been made in a similar moment of weakness? And yet: Could one disregard his express wish, in a sense wresting from his hands something unfinished to which he clung? more

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