Vladimir Nabokov – Laughter In The Dark

Posted on | October 23, 2011 | 9 Comments

Congratulate me, for I’ve finished my first Nabokov. Some four years back, I attempted to read the much acclaimed Lolita, but failed to finish it for it was way too disturbing. I must give it another try.

My second foray into Nabokov’s world was far more successful though. Not only did I race through the book, but I was absolutely floored by so many aspects of it, that I don’t even know where to start.

The story is quite simple. Albinus, a wealthy man, decides to give up his family for Margot, a precocious manipulative teenager who is an aspiring actress. Completely smitten by her, he moves in with her, in an apartment he sorted out for her, while she works towards her end-game: ensuring his riches are hers, or using him to progress her non-existent acting career. The opening lines pretty much sum up the book:

Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster.

Albinus comes across as a really nice man, adultery and abandoning his family aside. He’s innocent, naive and just… wrapped around Margot’s little finger. The way his relationship with his wife just fizzles out is…lamentable, really. It’s not very often when one finds themselves sympathising with the adulterer, but in Laughter In The Dark, one is compelled to – it’s not like there is an alternative. He has no backbone, he has no say, and he’s like a little puppy – eager to please.

On the other hand, Margot comes across as a little devil. Accustomed to getting her own way at every turn, and ensuring that Albinus is willing to jump through hoops to please her, she milks the situation to the fullest. She really is despicable, and her child-like personality and selfishness is both, cringeworthy and horrific. With each page read, Margot just becomes more and more reprehensible.

The beauty though lies in Nabokov’s writing – despite being a Russian author*, the translation is easy to read, but so beautifully poignant. To tell such a tragic story, with a tinge of humour, and no pity or heartache is quite impressive.

A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.

I enjoyed this book tremendously, and despite the fact that the subject was slightly disturbing, I was completely enthralled. On finishing this, I’d like to read all of Nabokov’s works (in good time), specially when I read some other thoughts on the book, and they inform me that it’s not one of his best.

*In my world, Russian authors are near impossible to read, and completing a book by one of them feels like a great accomplishment.

Comments

9 Responses to “Vladimir Nabokov – Laughter In The Dark”

  1. Kerry
    October 23rd, 2011 @ 10:27 pm

    Congratulations!

    I am a huge Nabokov fan, though I have many of his works to go. Pnin is short, sweet, and awesome if you are eager to try another. I will let you know about Bend Sinister soon.

    This is among those I have not read, so I cannot spur you on to greater heights. Pale Fire is incredible, however. For other, “readable” Russians*, try Bulgakov’s The White Guard and Ilf’s & Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs. The first is beautiful and touching, the second hilarious, both are nothing like Dostoevsky or even Tolstoy.

    Cheers!

  2. Sarah
    October 23rd, 2011 @ 11:32 pm

    Like you I too wish to work through all of Nabokov, and I hadn’t even heard of this one! Pnin is next up for me, and I can enthusiastically endorse Kerry’s recommendation of Pale Fire.

    I also loved Invitation to a Beheading. Nabokov wouldn’t thank me for the comparison, but if you like Kafka…

  3. Michelle @ 1morechapter
    October 24th, 2011 @ 2:20 am

    I’d like to read another Nabokov. I have read Lolita, which I found very disturbing as well, and I didn’t rate it very highly at the time because of it. However, I do recognize that his writing, if not his subject matter, is excellent.

  4. Aarti
    October 24th, 2011 @ 3:21 am

    I really want to read Nabokov. I found out that he translated all his own novels, and for some reason that makes me think he is TOTALLY awesome. I am just completely intimidated by his writing. I want to read Lolita, too. Maybe it can be a read-along type of thing?

  5. Justine
    October 24th, 2011 @ 4:51 am

    I loved Lolita. It was so striking in so many different areas – content and style included. I will definitely give this one a try!

    Overall I agree with you about Russian authors. Although, I have to say that I read Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and found it desperately austere but not too difficult to read.

  6. Alex (The Sleepless Reader)
    October 25th, 2011 @ 7:13 pm

    Nabokov wad a way with first lines :) I listen to Lolita last year, read by Jeremy Irons and loved it, was completely hypnotized by the writing. I think I’d like this one as well.

  7. Nivedita
    October 26th, 2011 @ 3:41 am

    The lines on the diamond cuff link are simply awesome! I have been wanting to read Lolita but I think I might pick this one first. Thanks for the review :)

  8. Joanna
    October 29th, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

    Congratulations! I haven’t been brave enough to tackle Nabokov yet… maybe this one is a better one to start with than Lolita, although I might check that out on audio.

  9. Alita
    October 31st, 2011 @ 4:08 am

    Congrats!

    I love the two quotes you shared. If the rest of the book is like that, it seems like one that I need to read.

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