March 21, 2011 by Me and My Monkeys
Mary is Nabokov’s first novel, so I tried to find evidence of boyish naivety. I was confronted only by my own.
Like N’s protagonist, Ganin, I frequently “felt such a sudden access to sadness”, found myself “quite incapable of renunciation or flight”, and encountered “that aching feeling of loneliness …when someone dear to us surrenders to a daydream in which we have no place”.
As for Vladimir, he just drifts through this daydream – hinting at his own presence – like the host of an English (or Russian) Literature department wine and cheese party. There is, already lurking, the obsessive Humbertian lover who admires “the delicate curve of [Mary’s] nostril”. And there is also the labyrinth of memory, shadow and simulacra that transform every statement into a question. “Surely memories won’t die when I do”.
The dancers are asleep on the divan? I won’t elaborate. Just a metaphor for all that has been lost: love, life, opportunity. And yet the book is not depressing. We are left with reality: “life in all the thrilling beauty of despair and happiness”.
Nabokov writes that “[m]usic transforms everything into a significant and immortal gesture”. So does He.
Recommended? Yes, and highly. If you like a melancholy ache in your joints.
Out of 10? A solid, and perhaps unlucky, 8.