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While this isn't my favorite Nabokov novel and I have to leave room and stars for its better, it is stil bold and amazing. Nabokov is one of those writers I will never tire of. He is imaginative, funny, tight and always just a little naughty. Despair is a false double novel that at once mocks, parodies and honors Crime & Punishment. It was like Nabokov set out to write a fanciful doppelgänger novel of Crime and Punishment, but felt like he would prefer to dress Raskolnikov up a bit; bend the mirror and make him fancy, turn him into a Russian emigre candy dandy.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
Seriously, I didn't like this. Yeah, I like how Vladimir Nabokov writes but this book just doesn't have the sparkle, the humor or the polished writing of Lolita or Speak, Memory or other books by the author. It feels like a piece that still needs more work….or maybe you can work something to death. Look at the history of this book. Despair first came out in 1934 as a serial in the Russian literary journal Sovremennye. It was published as a book in 1936, translated by the author into English in 1937, but what exists today is the author's reworking of 1965. Clearly he did have time to rethink this.
Why doesn’t it work for me? Despair not only was a forerunner to Lolita, published in 1955, but it feels like that too. One can compare Hermann of this novel with Lolita's Humbert Humbert. Both are unreliable first-person narrators, but one is a shadow of the other. Not in who they are but in the strength of their characterizations. Lydia, Hermann's wife, doesn't come close to Lolita's Dolores.
So what is the theme of this one? It is a murder story, but more! It is really about doubles, about identity and what connects one person to another. Hermann is delusional. Anything he says has to be questioned. Of course that is true too of Humbert Humbert, but there it is easier to just see the facts presented as his point of view. In Despair the story is so much more complicated; you are thrown between the writing of a story, how authors write stories and what actually happens, i.e. the events of the tale. Too complicated! Not properly thought through. Similar themes but quite simply not as good.
There are also funnier and more noteworthy lines in Lolita. More to chuckle at. More to think about on all sorts of themes, having nothing to do with sex or murder.
Christopher Lane does a good job with the narration, even if occasionally when he personifies dubious characters of Russian origin it was practically impossible to hear the lines. Arrogance, self-satisfaction and delusional traits, as well as furious explosions of temper all are well intoned.
For me this was quite simple a forerunner to Lolita. That I gave five stars.
3 of 5 people found this review helpful