cover image Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov

Insomniac Dreams: Experiments with Time by Vladimir Nabokov

Edited by Gennady Barabtarlo. Princeton Univ., $24.95 (232p) ISBN 978-0-691-16794-7

Barabtarlo (A Shimmering Hoop), a Nabokov scholar, knits scraps and samples from his subject’s published and unpublished works into a philosophical meditation on dreams, time, and dream time that provides a fresh slant on this much-studied writer. The centerpiece is a cluster of note cards dating to 1964 on which Nabokov recorded several dreams. To make a full book of the subject, Barabtarlo prefaces his analysis of the note cards, the text of which are reproduced here, with an explanation of how Nabokov was inspired to make them by an eccentric British inventor’s theory on precognitive dreams. He also compares Nabokov’s real dreams with examples of those from his novels (“a long, rambling, dreary dream had repeated, in a kind of pointless parody, his strenuous ‘Casanovanic’ night with Ada,” from Ada, or Ardor) and ends with a fanciful take on how the dream-recording experiment gave the author new insight into time. Nabokov’s actual accounts of his dreams, though interlarded with Barabtarlo’s overly obtrusive editorial comments, are fantastic, and show in raw form the wit, facility, and inherent discipline of language easily recognizable as Nabokov’s handiwork. The author’s fans will be fascinated by the obsessions, fears, preoccupations, and minutiae revealed without filter or guard. In one of the most striking dreams, the author passes by a closed room, hears a piano being uncertainly practiced within, and opens the door to find his late father (Nabokov notes, “He was my age when he was killed.”) While the book strains credulity with the suggestion that Nabokov’s writing reveals a knack for “strangely accurate foreglimpse[s]” of the future, it is worth reading for the note cards alone, which will fortify Nabokov scholars for years to come. (Nov.)