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the complete review - fiction
The Original of Laura
[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]
general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author
- A Novel in Fragments
- With a Preface by Dmitri Nabokov
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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:
Haven't gotten a copy
Chances that we will review it:
Good -- if/when we get a copy
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The book is nicely presented (except for Dmitri's contribution ...), but it is what it is: fragmentary
From the Reviews:
- "Dmitri Nabokov's introduction is a lamentable performance, stridently defensive, slippery on particulars, and frequently repellent in tone. (...) This edition is a triumph of the book maker's art, and the design, by the Nabokovianly named Chip Kidd, is masterly. (...) The Original of Laura is altogether too knowing for its own good, and the tone grates on the ear and the nerves, so that one feels that one has been buttonholed by a relentlessly garrulous flaneur. Still, the book is deeply interesting, not so much for what it thinks itself to be as for what we know it is: a master's final work." - John Banville, Bookforum
- "Given these fragmentary facts, remarkable editorial measures needed to be taken so as to make a book out of these bits of light and their surrounding darkness. The result lies halfway between a scholarly edition and a childrenís book." - Leland de la Durantaye, Boston Review
- "Thirty-two years after Nabokovís death at 78, its publication feels more like a generous gift to readers than a ploy for fame or fortune. This is in great part due to the dazzlingly clever presentation of the material. By reproducing facsimiles of Nabokovís 138 penciled index cards at the top of each page and printing typeset transcriptions with minimal editorial changes and notes below, Chip Kidd, associate art director at Knopf, has designed a format that reminds us forcefully, in graphic terms, that The Original of Laura is a work in progress and not an ordinary manuscript. (...) The manuscript gets stranger and more fitfully elliptical in the second half, which largely concerns Wildís description of his weird psychological experiments." - Heller McAlpin, Christian Science Monitor
- "The Original of Laura could have been published badly, as if it were a new Lolita. Instead it has been better published than I could have imagined. (...) His style may be most extraordinary not so much as prose but as story. That opening sentence wins no prizes as prose -- plain diction, and a double concession that weakens the force of the statement -- but as storytelling it astounds.For centuries, I predict, scholars of narrative will focus on the opening chapter of The Original of Laura as proof of the new finds to be made in fiction -- in characterisation, setting, action, speech, narration." - Brian Boyd, Financial Times
- "Ein Sammelsurium von Entwurfsfragmenten, denen der plotoffenbarende Mittelteil fehlt, breitet sich Das Modell für Laura vor dem Leser aus wie ein kalligraphisch verzaubernder, labyrinthisch verwilderter Garten ohne Pavillon im Zentrum (.....) Selten hat es in der Geschichte der Literatur eine tragischere Lektüre gegeben als die eines Werks, das zu lesen der Schmach gleichkommt, einem Begräbnis beizuwohnen als ausgeladener Gast." - Markus Gasser, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
- "But that's literally it, there's nothing there. The gimmick is that you can take the index cards out (they're perforated), to shuffle them as if you were the author yourself. The actual purpose, it strikes me, is literally to create the hole that is already metaphorically there. Which is pretty damn Nabokovian, I have to admit, though you should really go the distance and set fire to the index cards as if you were the author's wife. Then you can use the book to smuggle cigarettes into school. This is a bewildering act of brand dilution." - Thomas Leveritt, Independent on Sunday
- "(N)ot so much a book as a devotional object, which photographically reproduces every single index card and even allows the reader to punch out these perforated simulacra and shuffle through them, just as the author did. (...) To be blunt: As a novel -- even as the sketch of a novel, with operating instructions enclosed -- The Original of Laura is largely an exercise in frustration. There are enough Nabokovian touches, at least in the earlier section, to tantalize any devotee of the English language." - James Marcus, The Los Angeles Times
- "Es ist unverkennbar, dass das Gravitationszentrum des Romans nicht in den angeblich fertiggestellten ersten 50 Karten liegt, sondern in den Einträgen der zweiten Hälfte. (...) Noch ärgerlicher als die schwachen Flora-Partien ist die Edition des Buches. (...) Das Nachwort wird indes durch die Qualität der Übersetzung noch unterboten." - Andreas Isenschmid, Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sonntag
- "These cards are merely an interesting mess. Whereas as a novel they are as unfinished as can be, they do leave my esteem for Nabokov the man, as different but not entirely distinct from the writer, pretty much finished." - John Simon, The New Criterion
- "It turns out to be an exquisite thing. Knopf has tried to bring us as close as possible to the original of The Original of Laura, and the result is a showpiece of intelligent book design built on a deep respect for the manuscript. (...) . Itís a fascinating read on many levels. If Knopf were to publish a series of painstakingly reproduced Nabokov manuscripts, Iíd pawn my Kindle to buy them all. The Original of Laura is a glorious mess." - Sam Anderson, New York
- "Nabokov's published works are so flawless in their finish that the raw material of their making is almost shocking. (...) The Original of Laura offers us only clues to what the finished book would have become. It would have been about sex and death and fiction; it would have played games with art and the biographical fallacy; it would have been strange and sad. It would have been really something." - John Lanchester, The New York Review of Books
- "In The Original of Laura (...) he imagines the death of his protagonist, a writer and neurologist named Philip, as a sort of Nietzschean act of will, as an exercise in self-erasure conducted body part by body part, beginning with his toes. It is the ultimate fantasy of a writer who wants to exert complete control over the narrative of his own life. (...) In many respects, the release of a rudimentary version of his last novel does a disservice to a writer who deeply cherished precision and was practiced in the art of revision. (...) Yet, at the same time, these bits and pieces of Laura will beckon and beguile Nabokov fans (.....) Most hauntingly, given the circumstances of its composition, Laura explores the subjects of death and the otherworldly with contemplative urgency." - Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
- "But although The Original of Laura has, at long last, been properly published -- assuming it was proper to publish it at all -- thereís not enough of it to be properly reviewed, as Nabokov himself would surely understand. (...) The style of Nabokovís very last work hardly seems ďunprecedentedĒ either, but especially for an aging, ailing man, he was in fine form." - David Gates, The New York Times Book Review
- "The book is actually a completed draft of roughly half of a (very slim) novel and a series of notes towards the rest. (...) What we are being presented with, then, is a kind of literary conjuring trick. We are invited to believe that we are reading not a made-up story but a slice of real life, before it was brushed up, elaborated upon and turned into fiction. (...) It seems likely that this book will have a more significant impact on the size of Dmitri Nabokov's bank balance than it ever will on the world of letters." - William Skidelsky, The Observer
- "This very unfinished work reads largely like an outline, full of seeming notes-to-self, references to source material, self-critique, sentence fragments and commentary (.....) Mostly, this amounts to a peek inside the authorís 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." - Publishers Weekly
- "If we don't treat the text as pure surface, and if we don't want to see it as a dying author's miscarriage, we will have to read it as Nabokov's last metafictive parable. (...) We, at least, have this gorgeous book, which eventually will be seen, when it is packaged less distractingly, as one of the most interesting short stories Nabokov never wrote." - Eric Naiman, San Francisco Chronicle
- "A beautiful object, superbly bound and lovingly furnished, its title fading across the cover from left to right with allusive aptness, The Original of Laura, (which Nabokov subtitled Dying is Fun -- though for him the opposite was the case), is an old man's fumble, a failed attempt at sleight of hand, so often Nabokov's stock in trade.(...) (T)his novel is a flawed, truncated mosaic, its sentences glittering, sometimes opaque, here and there risible with strained alliteration." - Tom Adair, The Scotsman
- "At a mere 9,000 or so words, The Original of Laura is at best a short-story sketch, at worst a collection of 138 notecards (which Nabokov preferred to use to compose, leaving it to his wife, Vera, to type the manuscript), slapped together in just enough of a semblance of order to afford the reader a peek at a possible structure and a hint of the underlying ideas. (...) It is safe to say that what is published as the novel titled The Original of Laura (Dying Is Fun) is not a result Nabokov desired or would welcome. Not only does it go against his expressed wishes, it goes against his very aesthetic sensibility, against his entire life as an artist. Too sick to destroy the notecards that contain The Original of Laura, the master is now eternally exposed to a gloating, greedy world of academics, publishers, and all the other card-shuffling mediocrities titillated by the sight of a helpless genius." - Aleksandar Hemon, Slate
- "The Original of Laura itself has, in the mind of a fevered coterie, somehow become a lost masterpiece. If no one had ever been allowed to read it, it would have stayed like that forever. Unfortunately, it turns out to be rambling, trite, and, evidently, a very early draft of some quite confused material." - Philip Hensher, The Spectator
- "Mr. Adair, übernehmen Sie, würden wir hier am liebsten abschließend ausrufen, denn der britische Schriftsteller Gilbert Adair, als Stilmimetiker wie erzählerischer Strukturvirtuose gleichermaßen ausgewiesen, scheint unter den Lebenden wie keiner geeignet, aus dem tristen, unfertigen Papierstapel noch etwas Gold zu machen." - Gustav Seibt, Süddeutsche Zeitung
- "A lot of people believe that Nabokov is one of the few truly great writers of the 20th century, so a certain amount of pomp in the novelís presentation is forgivable. Even so, it seems excessive to serve up a few rough, scribbled fragments of what would have been Nabokovís 18th novel as if they were the raw material of a work that already enjoyed classic status. Does anything about this interrupted project even begin to justify such lavishness? The quick answer has to be a loud and scarcely qualified "No". (...) The Original of Laura is at best an elegant literary folly: a handsome piece of book-making, but hardly a real book." - Kevin Jackson, Sunday Times
- "So is Laura worth the wait and the hype? Emphatically not, as far as the story in itself is concerned. (...) Itís fairly easy to work out where the story will go, but it barely begins to get there. (...) Penguin have created an extraordinarily handsome book (.....) But all in all Dmitri Nabokov would have served Vladimirís memory most nobly by publishing this fragment in an academic journal for the benefit of scholars. By seeking to turn it into a moneyspinner, he may have inflicted some severe damage on his fatherís reputation." - Jonathan Bate, The Telegraph
- "It is a clever conceit, and beautifully produced. Bibliophiles will be grateful for the bookís chunky but elegant design. Bookshops will be equally grateful for the shrink-wrapped plastic cover that guards it from inquisitive fingers. Presumably the publisher is hoping that neither will notice the crafty sleight of hand that involves transforming fragments of a novel into "a novel in fragments" (.....) (A)s Nabokovís writing disintegrates into stray notes and orphan phrases, it ends up looking more like a shortened story, one that is full of pregnant hints and glimpses but never gets much beyond elegant throat-clearing. The Original of Laura is many things, including a set of chess pieces waiting for a game, Nabokovís final love letter to the power of the unsaid and a narrative that, like most of his best work, centres on someone who is falling apart, but it is emphatically not a novel." - Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, The Telegraph
- "For readers who are devoted to Nabokov (I'm one), The Original of Laura affords its own ecstasies. It comes at you as a reprieve, a final appearance from an old friend you thought was already gone for good. It's a shambles, a heap of shards, but they're Nabokov's shards and no one else's" - Lev Grossman, Time
- "The Penguin hardback is beautiful, and the inspiration to facsimile the original cards -- so much so that that you can tear them out by their perforations if you would prefer your own card-index version -- is better than a gimmick. Faith to the original in every sense is essential here, because what we are really doing is looking at a curiosity, not reading a masterpiece. The story is unsurprising for a man who has always been obsessed by middle-aged longing for girls too young for sex with middle-aged men who long for them. (...) There are some wonderful index cards (.....) The problem is that Laura is slight, and it doesnít do any good to pretend otherwise. A literary sensation it is not" - Jeanette Winterson, The Times
- "It is an assembly of fragments of a novel, notes towards a final text that was clearly some years away from completion. It contains moments of expected brilliance, amid plenty of humdrum early drafting." - Stephen Abell, Times Literary Supplement
- "The first effect of reading The Original of Laura gives less pleasure than a certain squeamishness. The bony, tentative hand of illness can be found on the cards themselves. The lineaments of a serious literary undertaking are obvious, too, but in only a few places can one discern even a hint of the technical brilliance, the penchant for parody, the irresistible flippancy that we would recognize as the work of the author of Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada." - Alexander Theroux, Wall Street Journal
- "Apart from a few enchanting phrases -- "the orange awnings of southern summers" -- there's just not much here. (...) Where the action was intended to go remains elusive, and without any serious editorial apparatus it's difficult even to speculate. In consequence, this book remains only a posthumous collection of rough drafts and authorial notes, more novelty than anything else. The Original of Laura is for Nabokov completists only." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
- "The incomplete and increasingly rambling text shows some signs of technical brilliance. But the parody and word play that define Nabakov's sensibilities are rarely present within the somewhat abstract and ultimately simple plot." - Christian Bourge, The Washington Times
- "Niemand weiß, was aus diesem buddhistisch gefärbten Gedankenexperiment hätte werden können, aber das Wenige, das uns vorliegt, ist von seltener Ödheit und Blässe. Von dem dunklen metaphysischen Kosmos, in den uns Nabokovs große Romane ziehen, ist Laura weit entfernt. Die traurige Wahrheit ist: Dying is not fun. Und um ein anderes bekanntes Wort des Meisters abzuwandeln: Details sind fast immer willkommen." - Michael Maar, Die Zeit
- "I can tell you, however, that the subtitle Dying Is Fun is deadly serious in a deeply disturbing way. Talk about your "death panels"! There have been hints of the book's dark tone in print, but wait till you see what's on these index cards." - Ron Rosenbaum, Slate (24/9/2009)
- "It is not "A novel in fragments", as the cover states; it is immediately recognisable as a longish short story struggling to become a novella. In this palatial edition, every left-hand page is blank, and every right-hand page reproduces Nabokov's manuscript (with its robust handwriting and fragile spelling -- "bycycle", "stomack", "suprize"), plus the text in typed print (and infested with square brackets). It is nice, I dare say, to see those world-famous index cards up close; but in truth there is little in Laura that reverberates in the mind. (...) Otherwise and in general Laura is somewhere between larva and pupa (to use a lepidopteral metaphor), and very far from the finished imago." - Martin Amis, The Guardian (14/11/2009)
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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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception:
Vladimir Nabokov's fragmentary last 'manuscript' -- a pile of index cards (well, that is how he worked) --, The Original of Laura (also known as Dying is Fun) has been the subject of much discussion over the years since the master's death.
While the author's last wishes were explicit and clear (like Kafka's) -- burn it -- his son (and (self-serving) literary executor) Dmitri vacillated for decades before finally instead going for the big payout and allowing publication of the 'work'.
The discussion about the author's wishes is probably more interesting than the actual work, but it certainly has helped garner enormous amounts of pre-publication press coverage.
Early reviews suggest -- unsurprisingly -- that it's more of a literary curiosity than anything else (and many are sure that Nabokov would not have wanted it published in this form).
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The Original of Laura:
Other books by Vladimir Nabokov under review:
Other books of interest under review:
- The fine Zembla site, devoted to Nabokov.
- Nabokov A-Z (includes concordance to Lolita)
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About the Author:
Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was among the leading authors of the 20th century, writing significant works in both Russian and English.
He is the author of novels such as Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada.
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© 2009-2011 the complete review
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