Dr. Philip Wild, a man of brilliance, wit, fortune and tremendous bulk, is used to suffering
humiliation at the hands of his wife - the young, slender and rudely promiscuous Flora. In
a novel, a 'maddening masterpiece' documenting her infidelities, written by one of her lovers
and given to the doctor, she appears as My Laura. Dishonoured, Wild still finds pleasure
in life by indulging in virtual self-annihilation, beginning with the removal of his toes.
Sensing that he would not complete The Original of Laura, Nabokov asked for the
manuscript to be burned after his death. Now available for the first time, this novel is published
with 138 colour reproductions of the index cards on which the novel was originally written, accompanied
by an introduction by Dmitri Nabokov on his father's final great book, and the difficult decision to publish.
Vladimir Nabokov was one of the great writers of the twentieth century, as well as translator and lepidopterist. His works include, among the Russian novels, The Luzhin Defense and The Gift; among the English novels, the classics Lolita, Pnin, Pale Fire and Ada; the autobiographical Speak, Memory.
"The fun of Glory is... to be sought in the echoing and linking of minor events, in back-and-forth switches, which produce an illusion of impetus; in an old daydream directly becoming the blessing of the ball hugged to one's chest, or in the casual vision of Martin's mother grieving beyond the time-frame of the novel in an abstraction of the future that the reader can only guess at, even after he has raced through the last seven chapters where a regular madness of structural twists and a masquerade of all characters culminate in a furious finale, although nothing much happens at the very end - just a bird perching on a wicket in the greyness of a wet day."
Lev Ganin is a young officer sharing a boarding house in Berlin with a host of Russian émigrés. Alone in his room, he dreams of his first love, Mary. Awash with memories of youth and idyllic scenes of pre-Revolution Russia, Ganin becomes convinced that Mary is in fact the wife of a fellow-boarder, due to arrive at this very house soon. He longs for her arrival, when he can whisk her away and leave everything behind...
Nabokov said of his chess-playing genius Luzhin, that despite his coarseness and grubby plainness, he is a lovable creation. Discovering his prodigious gift in boyhood, rising to the rank of international Grandmaster, Luzhin develops a lyrical passion for chess that renders the real world a phantom. As he confronts the fiery, swift-swooping Italian Grandmaster, Turati, he brings into play his carefully-devised defence. Making masterly play of metaphor and imagery, The Luzhin Defense is the book that, of his early works, Nabokov felt 'contains and diffuses the greatest warmth'.
Nabokov described this novella, written in Paris in 1939 but only published twenty years later, as 'the first little throb of Lolita'. The plot is similar: a middle-aged man wedding an unattractive widow in order to indulge his paedophilic obsession with her daughter.
However, The Enchanter has an utterly different atmosphere, as time, place and even names remain a mystery. Nabokov transforms his protagonist's attempts to lull his twelve-year-old step-daughter into a state of 'enchantment' into a graceful, chilling fairytale.
'Speak, Memory' said Vladimir Nabokov. And immediately there came flooding back to him a host of enchanting recollections - of his comfortable childhood and adolescence, of his rich, liberal-minded father, his beautiful mother, an army of relations and family hangers-on and of grand old houses in St Petersburg and the surrounding countryside in pre-revolutionary Russia. Young love, butterflies, tutors and a multitude of other themes thread together to weave an autobiography which is itself a work of art.
This Penguin Modern Classic edition contains an appendix, 'Chapter sixteen', a pseudo-review written by Nabokov in 1950 but only now published for the first time in paperback.
The Gift is the phantasmal autobiography of Fyodor Godunov-Cherdynstev, a writer living in the closed world of Russian émigré intellectuals in Berlin shortly after the First World War. In this his last, and to many his greatest, Russian novel, Nabokov unfolds the story of a writer's pursuit; a gorgeous tapestry of literature and Lepidoptera whose true hero is not Fyodor's elusive, beloved Zina, but Russian prose and poetry itself.