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Monday, March 12, 2007

Nabokov's Genius

After reading "Lolita" a few months ago, I was given to the opinion that Nabokov is one of the greatest geniuses of the 20th Century. Now, reading "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight," I have become convinced, once again, that this man was born to be one of the greatest writers of the century. Here's a passage from today's lengthy reading:

She entered his life without knocking, as one might step into the wrong room because of its vague resemblance to one's own. She stayed there forgetting the way out and quietly getting used to the strange creatures she found there and petted despite their amazing shapes. She had no special intention of being happy or of making Sebastian happy, nor had she the slightest misgivings as to what might come next; it was merely a matter of naturally accepting life with Sebastian because life without him was less imaginable than a telurian's camping-tent on a mountain in the moon.

This is absolutely brilliant. The fact that she sees "creatures" there and not just a creature (Sebastian) alludes to the fact that Sebastian was a multi-personality visionary at the moment she met him. He envisioned a fiction--she saw the non-fiction of living with him without a judgment. Here's another passage about the writing process:

His struggle with words was unusually painful and this for two reasons. One was the common one with writers of his type: the bridging of the abyss lying between expression and thought; the maddening feeling that the right words, the only words are awaiting you on the opposite bank in the misty distance, and the shudderings of the still unclothed thought clamouring for them on this side of the abyss.

Who among those who claim to write hasn't at one point or another felt this way? The limitless possibility of language while being the most marvelous of gifts is also the most demanding addiction. One word over the next... who could make sense of the writer's world like Nabokov? I see him describing his own challenges writing in English (this novel is the first he wrote completely in English), and the struggle to get it right. Like "Lolita," "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" is a masterpiece! Highly recommendable.

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