Tuesday November 10th, 2009

Hemon’s Not Happy

At Slate, Aleksandar Hemon offers his searing opinion about the posthumous publication of Nabokov. It begins:

Back when I was a young viewer of Sarajevo TV, there was a cult show along the lines of Monty Python that once featured a skit with a poem presumably found in the papers of a deceased genius poet. An actor ponderously declaimed the newly discovered verse—“Bread/ Milk /Cooking oil . . .”—as it became clear that the masterpiece was in fact a grocery list. The last, crushing line was: “And some fish, if you can find any.”

Nabokov’s The Original of Laura (Dying Is Fun) is far from being a grocery list, but it is just as far from being a novel. The master began it in 1975 and was working on it in 1977 when he fell ill and died, leaving instructions that the manuscript be destroyed. A few decades later, the would-be novel has been resurrected by a crafty agent-publisher alliance that has orchestrated a high drama around it . . .

He goes on to offer a smart reading of what might have made the finished novel a compelling addition to Nabokov’s canon, and to articulate some more disdain for that “craft alliance.” Read the whole thing. I think an author’s wishes can be intriguingly debated when talking about a finished (or very close to finished) work. But publishing notes on index cards as a “novel” does seem pretty exploitative — not to mention silly.