Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: Laugher In The Dark by Vladimir Nabokov

I read this book very quickly over a couple days. I picked it up on impulse, having always wanted to read another book by Nabokov and having been intrigued by the synopsis.

Oddly enough, one of the most interesting parts of this book was the introduction by John Banville, which chronicled the novels place within Nabokov's career and it's possible relation to Nabokov's later works, including Lolita. More specifically, it highlights the way that the parasitic relationship in this novel may have been a precursor to the relationship investigated in Lolita, only in this novel, Margot is a cunning (if not very smart) and vile active participant in Albert Albinus' demise.

Unrelated sidenote: Albert Albinus? Humbert Humbert? Axel Rex? I'll gladly take any comments related to the meaning behind Nabokov's obsession with mirroring names.

I didn't like this novel as much as Lolita, but only because it DID read to me a bit like just that: a precursor to a greater idea. In this novel, Nabokov seems to be toying with the idea of female power and of male justification for reprehensible behavior, themes that will be investigated to much greater effect later and which might not have been so deeply developed were it not for novels like this one.

Albert Albinus is at least slightly sympathetic. One can see the wheels turning within him and warning him that the decisions he's making are destructive and loathsome. One can see his moment's hesitation in considering a proper route of action. His conscience is visible. The drama and tragedy comes in his continued failure to obey these impulses, particularly in the face of Margot's calculating seducation and continued moral decline. Her and Axel Rex make for some truly perilous villains, and it is obvious from the start that a man like Albinus will not be able to stand up to the terror they will impose upon him.

The strength in this book comes from the quality of Nabokov's prose, which anyone who has had the pleasure of reading a Nabokov novel is familiar with. I look forward to reading other Nabokov novels, as this one has really whetted my appetite for more. It might be a good place to start if one is interested in reading beyond Lolita.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

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