Saturday, 11 August 2018

Book review; Insomniac Dreams, Vladimir Nabokov (2018)

Subtitled “experiments with time” and edited by Gennady Barabtarlo, this odd little volume is quite possibly the most opportunistic piece of preciousness I have tried to read in a long time, taking as it does the name of a major 20th century author and slapping it on a mediocre piece of scholarship performed with a remarkable lack of competence.

The book is so bad, especially in its first part, which is supposed to explain the interest that the author, Nabokov, had with the theories of dreams of an engineer and polymath named John W. Dunne, that you come away with no more understanding of the proposition than you had upon purchasing the book.

It’s easy to see how Dunne’s ideas might have been of interest to Nabokov, who plays with notions of time in his post-‘Lolita’ novel of 1969 ‘Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle’. The notion that you could see the future in your dreams was part of the appeal of Dunne’s ideas to the Russian author. But if you were looking for some insights into Nabokov’s thinking, for any new information about his ideas when conceiving that largely misunderstood novel, you will be disappointed with this book.

The preface, furthermore, is conceited and borrows rhetorical tropes from the subject of the book, as some commentators on Nabokov do on occasion, believing that proximity with the font of genius somehow gives them licence to adopt an similarly Apollonian posture, mimicking the stiff-necked style he adopted when confronted by members of the press. This kind of pose was tiresome in Nabokov and it’s just ridiculous in his acolytes.

The good things about the author have nothing to do with the fact that he retired, after the unforeseen success of his 1955 novel, to a luxurious Swiss hotel to live out his days in the kind of comfort that he would have expected to enjoy had the October Revolution not dislodged his family from their estate in 1917. The good things are still in the novels and they are available for anyone who bothers to go looking for them. Sadly, these days few seem interested in doing so.

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