ABOUT | PAST ENTRIES | BEST OF 00–04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | E-MAIL | RSS | TWITTER

Today's Inactive Lifestyles

Bulgakov, Mikhail. The Fatal Eggs. 104 pp.
Greene, Graham. The End of the Affair. 238 pp.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Ada. 626 pp.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Glory. 205 pp.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Laughter in the Dark. 292 pp.

The sparring of my two tasks—completing my initial reading list and tackling my newfound task of reading all of Nabokov’s novels—isn’t much of a match at this point, but I’m still chiseling away at both. The Fatal Eggs meets neither qualification, but in lieu of reading Flight and Bliss, I decided to read Bulgakov’s scientific/political satire. Like Heart of a Dog, the novella length prevents Bulgakov from truly inhabiting his characters, but allows for more direct cultural critique. The vision of enormous snakes crawling their way to Moscow could inspire a sequel to Snakes on a Plane (which I’m boycotting in theaters; I’d far prefer to go laugh at a movie when other people might possibly be taking it seriously, cough, Alien vs. Predator), but the social repercussion of scientific advances is still relevant. Worth the quick read.

The End of the Affair marks one of those awkward instances of having seen a film adaptation first (the 1999 Julianne Moore version; I’m not sure how well I could handle seeing a young Grand Moff Tarkin play Henry Miles), but that viewing was a few years ago and it didn’t taint the experience of the novel. Infidelity and jealousy have been fairly consistent themes in the Nabokov segment of this reading list, but the resounding sincerity and religious implications at work here made the two worlds seem almost entirely foreign. Those in charge of Greene’s collection at BC discussed how he received a deluge of letters from housewives pleading of his advice/permission for such illicit affairs, and could only respond with dry uniformity that he was, in fact, an author, and this story was not based on personal experience. Something tells me they didn’t believe him.

This round’s trio of Nabokov novels started with Ada and I’m not entirely sure where I stand on that novel yet, so I’ll keep my comments to a minimum. The gap between knowing I should reread a novel and chomping at the bit to do so divides Ada from Pale Fire, Bend Sinister, and Pnin, but at this point, I’ll call Ada a compelling, extended meditation and leave it there.

Glory has its moments—Martin’s fistfight with Darwin, the discussion of the value of various academic disciplines, Martin’s realization of his mutable nationality, and particularly its vague, compelling ending—but its drifting nature and (somewhat intentionally) bland characters take it down a notch.

Laughter in the Dark may lack some of the linguistic games and structural complications of Nabokov’s later novels, but once the primary relationship started, I tore through it like a man possessed. Despite his admitted distaste for dialogue, the dialogue, or more precisely, the tiny breathes of internal monologues poking through the dialogue, is where Laughter truly shines, honing its bleak tone to perfection. I understand why the Lolita comparisons arise, but the strength of Laughter is that tone rather than rapturous prose, separating the two novels somewhat significantly in my mind.