What a great book. An unexpected great book. A couple of weeks ago I found myself in an exceedingly precarious position: trapped at work with no book. OH the horror! It's one of my worst nightmares, actually. Luckily, I was trapped on the upper floor of a LIBRARY, so it was all OK. No reason to panic. No reason to become tearful or sharp. I just ran downstairs and started browsing. Due in part to the fact that my attention span is nearly nil, I chose the first slim volume I ran across. Pnin.
I am a Nabokov admirer. I read Lolita a few years ago (after a first failed attempt), and loved it--as much as a person can love a book about a pedophile.
But I digress. I loved it.
Loved Nabokov's style, his wit, his talent, his mastery of English (not his first language if you hadn't guessed by the name). Despite my admiration and high marks for Lolita, I can't say that I really *got* it the way I might get it now. Now I would pick up the annotated version (big, scary), and I would probably generally understand more given my post-graduate school proclivity for textual spelunkery. I always thought my next foray into Nabokov's world would be The Eye or Invitation to a Beheading, but Pnin seemed a good place to start given the size.
Dear GOD, he can pack a lot of literary shtuff into 140 pages. The story in brief:
Russian immigrant professor is a bumbling mess for the most part. Displaced, changes lodgings every semester (at least), reads his lectures verbatim from a typed sheet of paper excluding his almost unintelligible asides in broken English. He's just a mess. Poor guy. An endearing, sweet mess. Nabokov describes the conditions under which professor Timofey Pnin came to the United States and his overwhelming nostalgia for pre-revolutionary Russia. The reader is given back story on selected Pninian loves and losses, his budding relationship with his son, his academic struggles and foibles.
All in 140 pages.
In addition to a sweet plot and a nice academic novel, Nabokov does some delightful things with form. He's what my friend C. might've called "very Postmodern." And C. would be right. Nabokov plays with form in a number of ways, the most striking of which is the book's narrator. As the story begins, Nabokov drops a few hints that this story is not told my some nebulous voice from the sky, but someone Pnin actually knows (knew, more like). However, as the story moves along, the nebulous voice becomes more of a presence, eventually taking over the story completely and revealing his identity and relation to Pnin. Really, besides being a cool bit of literary trickery, it helps underscore the ways in which Pnin is completely devoid of control. He can't stay grounded in one living space, he can barely teach his classes and carry out his research, he can't even tell his own story! He becomes a character in his own story.
I read the Everyman's Library edition of this novel, and David Lodge writes a great intro. He explains some of the striking similarities between one of Nabokov's colleagues and Pnin. And, surprisingly, striking similarities between Nabokov himself and Pnin (the tendency toward reading lectures verbatim, an overwhelming absentmindedness, etc.). I'm usually not one for introductions--I often skip them completely--but this one was nicely written and gave an interesting peek inside Nabokov's life, as well as a timeline explaining how this book related to Lolita (published after, but the first easily accessible Nabokov novel in America since Lolita was banned). It's also nice to know that Pnin appears, happy and bumbling as usual, in a later novel.
8.5/10 - An enjoyable, rich novel. It took me a long time to read it because Nabokov's writing, for me, is just slow, even when I'm diggin' it.
In other news, I'm not nearly as pissy as I was last night. AND, I forgot to tell you all that the DA reduced my ticket to a speeding violation: 34 in a 25. Woot! And I was the 2nd person they called, so I was in, out, and done in about 30 minutes. Wheee!
If I don't type at you before Thanksgiving, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday! To those not celebrating, I still hope you have a good day. Preferably filled with books and/or revelry of some sort.