Almost done, so a review will come soon, but I felt compelled to say that I am in love — not with the book itself, but with the experience of reading it. I feel like I've been sitting at Nabokov's feet while he whispered a story into my ear, by which I mean there's a particular sense of intimacy that comes from reading facsimiles of his hand-written notes, from seeing words scribbled out, stricken, even misspelled. We'll never know what the novel could have become (although I'm seeing flashes of brilliance in these fragments), but I feel closer to this decades-dead man for having read this. I feel closer to humanity for having read this. And I definitely feel closer to my own fragile, flawed creativity, which is something I've really needed as I've been attempting (and failing at) National Novel Writing Month this November. I am in love with the act of writing again because of this book, and feeling inspired to once again pick up a project I started and stopped because I was too afraid of my own inadequacies, too afraid that I could not do justice to this thing that digs so deeply into my own heart and soul. I have a file on my laptop brimming with false starts, all abandoned because they did not rise to my own too-exacting demands for perfection. I understand why Nabokov wanted these fragments burned, never wanted the world to see anything less than perfection, but there is beauty and glory in the imperfection and it is a good thing that The Original of Laura
has seen the light of day, not because it can stand on its own merits, but for what it shows us of the man behind the curtain and what it shows us of ourselves, we happy few, we band of writers.
I've been spending some time thinking about this being "a novel in fragments" and wondering whether it is, in fact, a novel. Are these fragments a road map for a complete story, albeit an unfinished one? I think they are. I think the entire story was laid out in Nabokov's head. I think he knew what the novel would be if he could outrace death and finish it. Alas, we know how that race turned out. There are impressions of it contained in the fragments, particularly those from Wild's point of view. I suppose Wild is a stand-in for Nabokov, whom I imagine felt himself faltering in the last years of his life and wished he could rewrite his own destiny in much the same way Wild contemplates deleting and redrawing portions of his anatomy.
Speaking of the deletion scenes, the language and ideas of those seemed evocative of Ballard, at least to this reader's rather surface-level perception. I wonder if Nabokov had read any of Ballard's work in those years preceding his death.
Anyway, I'm not sure I can say much that's intelligent about The Original of Laura
except that I loved reading it. Even as a set of loosely connected fragments, even as something that only hinted at the greatness that could have been, it was a beautiful and alive. Consider me firmly on Team Nabokov after this.