The Original of Laura: (Dying Is Fun)
Before Nabokov's death in 1977, he instructed his wife to burn the unfinished first draft—handwritten on 138 index cards—of what would be his final novel. She did not, and now Nabokov's son, Dmitri, is releasing them to the world, though after reading the book, readers will wonder if the Lolita author is laughing or turning over in his grave.
This very unfinished work reads largely like an outline, full of seeming notes-to-self, references to source material, sentence fragments, commentary and brief flashes of spectacular prose. It would be a mistake for readers to come to this expecting anything resembling a novel, though the few actual scenes here are unmistakably Nabokovian, with cutting wordplay, piercing description and uneasy-making situations—a character named Hubert H. Hubert molesting a girl, a decaying old man's strained attempt at perfunctory sex with his younger wife.
The story appears to be about a woman named Flora (spelled, once, as “FLaura”), who has Lolita-like moments in her childhood and is later the subject of a scandalous novel, Laura , written by a former lover. Mostly, this amounts to a peek inside the author's process and mindset as he neared death. Indeed, mortality, suicide, impotence, a disgust with the male human body—and an appreciation of the fit, young female body—figure prominently.
Nabokov's handwritten index cards are reproduced with a transcription below of each card's contents, generally less than a paragraph. The scanned index cards (perforated so that they can be removed from the book) are what make this book an amazing document; they reveal Nabokov's neat handwriting and his own edits to the text: some lines are blacked out with scribbles, others simply crossed out. Words are inserted, typesetting notes and copyedit symbols pepper the writing, and the reverse of many cards bears a wobbly X. Depending on the reader's eye, the final card is either haunting or the great writer's final sly wink: it's a list of synonyms for “efface”—expunge , erase , delete , rub out , wipe out and, finally, obliterate . (Nov.)