Critical Mass



According to this post on the Guardian blog, 73-year-old Dmitri Nabokov has finally decided to ignore his father’s testamentary instructions and prepare the novelist’s final, unfinished work, The Original of Laura, for publication. Apparently a visitation from the deceased was what tipped the scales for Dmitri:

From his winter home in Palm Beach, Dmitri justified his decision by saying, “I’m a loyal son and thought long and seriously about it, then my father appeared before me and said, with an ironic grin, ‘You’re stuck in a right old mess—just go ahead and publish!’”

He told the magazine that he had made up his mind to do so.

It was, Der Spiegel states, this “conversation” with his father that “persuaded him against assuming the role of literary arsonist.”

We may assume that he will be widely thanked for his decision, even if the fragments of the novel—a collection of 50 index cards that has been languishing in a Swiss bank vault for three decades—are not of the standard of his other works.

But remarks like Dmitri’s that The Original of Laura is in fact “the most concentrated distillation of [my father’s] creativity” and Nabokov scholar Zoran Kuzmanovich’s observation that what he had heard of The Original of Laura was “vintage Nabokov,” are tantalizing enough to make one want to read it.

This dutiful son’s most famous precursor would be Max Brod, who ignored Kafka’s deathbed entreaties to burn his entire corpus of unpublished works. Similar (if not identical) issues were raised in 2006 with the publication of Elizabeth Bishop’s Edgar Allan Poe and the Jukebox, which included drafts and discards. But Nabokov’s novel, committed to the usual sequence of index cards, has attained Holy Grail status over the last few decades, and it should make for a fascinating read, even in its truncated form.