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the Complete Review
the complete review - biography / literay criticism

  

Speak, Nabokov

by
Michael Maar


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Speak, Nabokov



Title: Speak, Nabokov
Author: Michael Maar
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2007 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 138 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Speak, Nabokov - US
Speak, Nabokov - UK
Speak, Nabokov - Canada
Solus Rex - Deutschland
  • German title: Solus Rex
  • Translated by Ross Benjamin

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Our Assessment:

A- : interesting, and nice and sharply written Nabokov-study

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 12/1/2008 Ernst Osterkamp
NZZ . 8/10/2007 Ulrich M. Schmid
New Statesman A 20/3/2010 Lesley Chamberlain
The NY Rev. of Books . 15/7/2010 John Banville
Die Welt . 13/10/2007 Holger Kreitling


  Review Consensus:

  Quite impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Michael Maar hat mit sicheren und eleganten Strichen ein so kluges wie konzentriertes Porträt des Vladimir Nabokov und eine Orientierungskarte für das nicht immer leicht überschaubare Textgelände von Nabokovs Welt entworfen. Zu den besonderen Vorzügen des Buches, einer Schule des genauen Lesens, gehört neben dem reich ausgebildeten Beziehungssinn seines Autors die durchgehende Textnähe der Argumentation. Und doch will dem Leser dieses reich abschattierte Porträt des Moralisten und Metaphysikers Nabokov gelegentlich ein wenig, nun ja, deutsch vorkommen, denn eine wichtige Komponente des Werks bleibt in ihm unterbelichtet: sein Witz." - Ernst Osterkamp, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Die Entschlüsselung von Nabokovs Büchern ist eine Kunst für sich, und Maar beherrscht sie meisterhaft. Wie Nabokov legt auch Maar für seinen Leser Fährten aus, lässt ihn zunächst in die Irre laufen und verblüfft ihn dann mit einer überraschend einfachen Lösung. Weder Nabokov noch Maar schreiben für ein durchschnittliches Publikum. Wer nur Unterhaltung will, wird Maars Buch mit demselben empörten Aufschrei weglegen wie die amerikanischen Matrosen, die glaubten, mit der Erstausgabe von Lolita einen Porno-Roman erstanden zu haben. Wer sich aber mit Maar als Cicerone auf eine Reise durch Nabokovs verschachtelte Textwelten einlässt, wird mit wertvollen Einsichten belohnt." - Ulrich M. Schmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "It is a startling piece of literary detective work, which deciphers the word games and patterns that permeate Nabokov's novels in order to throw light on the author's life." - Lesley Chamberlain, New Statesman

  • "The central thesis of Speak, Nabokov is that the philosophical basis of Nabokov's work is Gnosticism, arrived at via a sympathetic reading of Schopenhauer (.....) Throughout Nabokov's long working life this child certainly remained "unforgotten," and Maar with his usual Holmesian beadiness traces her elfin appearances from the earliest stories right up to The Original of Laura " - John Banville, The New York Review of Books

  • "Themen, Motive, Zitate: Munter springt der Essayist zwischen den Büchern hin und her, vielleicht etwas zu selbstverliebt ob all der Brillanz. Manchmal schwirren dem Leser die Anspielungen und Querverweise wie Motten um den Kopf herum; man möchte sie mit einer lässigen Handbewegung verscheuchen, um in Ruhe weiterlesen zu können. Die 150 Seiten Text sind voll gepackt mit Stoff." - Holger Kreitling, Die Welt

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Speak, Nabokov is a slim volume but combines both biography and literary criticism in offering a surprisingly full and dense look at the art and life of Vladimir Nabokov. With a light but expert touch Maar draws connections and finds threads, and weaves all this together; Speak, Nabokov reads like an elegant scientific paper (complete with extensive footnotes), an enormous amount of material pared down to the essentials, but the larger visions still convincingly and fully conveyed. Even those who have made it through Brian Boyd's two-volume biography will find much of interest here; this is no substitute, but in this succinct presentation of Nabokov's work and life Maar offers an insightful and often fascinating picture. It is a far weightier work than its 138 pages would lead one to expect.
       Maar proceeds roughly chronologically in presenting his material, but there is constant reference to how Nabokov's life is reflected and refracted in his art, in an increasingly densely-woven tapestry.
       Maar posits:

     In any case, the true Nabokov is to be found in his work, in which his inner self radiates in all directions. That Nabokov, who reveals himself -- realizes himself, in the strictest sense of the word -- in his art, is a different Nabokov from the shaman who holds his contemporary world and posterity under his spell.
       Among Maar's guiding texts is the story Solus Rex, from an unfinished novel from before the Second World War -- in the original German Maar's study even shares that title -- but Maar moves confidently and easily among all of Nabokov's texts. He suggests how Nabokov's attitude (one of distaste) towards homosexuality evolved (an inappropriate uncle apparently setting things off), and notes that Nabokov's brother's own invert nature (and his tragic end) as well as his own continued visceral antipathy color his work. More significantly -- and more damningly -- Maar spends much of the latter part of his study following the evolution of Nabokov's preoccupation with nymphets, whose presence permeates Nabokov's fiction to an astonishing degree; it's a devastating litany of evidence, leading to obvious conclusions.
       Maar suggests that practically nothing in Nabokov's fiction is left up to chance -- and hence it is also reliable, since Nabokov is sure of every last detail. Some details may be ambiguous, but if a squirrel shows up "more often than chance would permit" that's as significant as the (hidden) acrostic that literally spells something out. There's considerable danger to the technique, but Maar applies it quite convincingly -- as well as entertainingly.
       Indeed, much of the fun of Speak, Nabokov comes from it's just slightly playful tone. It's beautifully written -- with little lost in the prize-winning translation by Ross Benjamin -- but also displays a sly sense of humor throughout, such as in how Maar expresses his doubts about Nabokov not knowing any German, despite his long residence in Germany. Maar obviously admires Nabokov and his work greatly, but frequently points to what are clearly Nabokov's efforts at image-making and maintaining, often in the face of very clear evidence to the contrary of those images. (Entertaining, too, is Maar's mention of his own "disgraceful writings" The Two Lolitas, in which he suggested that Nabokov was familiar with Heinz von Lichberg's own Lolitaesque work -- a claim "tantamount to slander" in certain circles; Maar notes the strident and blind devotion of many Nabokovians -- not least among them Nabokov-son (and estate-'manager'), Dmitri, who must be spinning in his Ferrari at some of what Maar writes here .....)
       Maar's study is quite fascinating, and anyone with much interest in the author will find a great deal of interest here. Familiarity with Nabokov's life and work do help in following along, though Maar really is a quite remarkable guide in making it all look very easy -- all the more remarkable for how much is packed in here, and how many connections are made and threads followed.
       Well worthwhile.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 August 2010

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Links:

Speak, Nabokov: Reviews: Books by Vladimir Nabokov under review: Other books by Michael Maar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Michael Maar was born in 1960.

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© 2010-2011 the complete review

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