March 9, 2010

On Despair, by Vladimir Nabokov

What happens when Nabokov writes a murder mystery with no mystery? _Despair_. Not bad, but a Nabokovian take on a conventional tale. He often writes repugnant protagonists, but he makes them compelling and sympathetic. This is not the case here, in my reading. Hermann someone I wouldn't want to spend time with in a room, so even the 212 pages of text were a little much. There is little in the way of plot or characters to recommend the book, but stylistically Nabokov hits his stride and makes the novel compelling just for his language.

However, a caveat based on my emotional response. Nabokov's writing feels often as if it was written with a sneer. This is hard to quantify but an feeling that comes across to this long-time reader. This sneer is written on his face and embedded in his prose. I'm not sure if this is a sneer of arrogance or contempt; maybe it represents both. I'm also not sure if the contempt is for his readers, his critics, or himself.