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Mary (Penguin Great Loves) [Paperback]

Vladimir Nabokov
2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Aug 2007 Penguin Great Loves

Alone in his room in a dirty Berlin pension, Ganin reminisces about Mary, his first love. He fantasizes that a fellow lodger’s wife, due to arrive the next day, is his long-lost sweetheart and plots how they will run away together, leaving everything else far behind …

United by the theme of love, the writings in the Great Loves series span over two thousand years and vastly different worlds. Readers will be introduced to love’s endlessly fascinating possibilities and extremities: romantic love, platonic love, erotic love, gay love, virginal love, adulterous love, parental love, filial love, nostalgic love, unrequited love, illicit love, not to mention lost love, twisted and obsessional love….

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (2 Aug 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141032901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141032900
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 11.1 x 18 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 328,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) was born in St Petersburg. He wrote his first literary works in Russian, but rose to international prominence as a masterly prose stylist for the novels he composed in English, most famously, Lolita. Between 1923 and 1940 he published novels, short stories, plays, poems and translations in the Russian language and established himself as one of the most outstanding Russian émigré writers.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars shadow of the greatness to come 6 May 2011
By rob crawford TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This novel is a good first effort, with vivid characters and a bìt of a surprise ending, which is one of Nab's trademarks. While I would never have read it for itself alone, it is interesting to see how a genius began in a new medium.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Of course not his best but still lovely 17 May 2009
By Melanie
Any Nabokov lover knows this isn't his best. However, it is a lovely story and well worth reading. Nabokov's depiction of emigre Russians is always fascinating and even if this isn't a literary masterpiece it has beautiful linguistic moments.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars He kissed her hot clavicle... 31 May 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A Russian pension in Berlin in 1923, full of refugees from the revolution. The narrator, Ganin - rude, uptight and dislikeable - finds out that his boring but inoffensive neighbour is married to the girlfriend he had as a teenager, and that she is due shortly to arrive. He embarks on lengthy reminiscences of his first love. Mary, we are told, had 'adorable mobile eyebrows'. She was cheerful and loved 'jingles, catchwords, puns and poems'; The lovers apparently talked 'for hours', although we have to take this on trust, as we never hear her speak apart from 'Look - the sun has come out,' and 'Lovely song' - oh and, of course, in fantasy-female mode, 'I'm yours. Do what you like with me', before 'he kissed her hot clavicle'...

Back in Berlin, Ganin dumps his current girlfriend, gets inexplicably fancied by one fellow boarder and helps another who happens to be a famous poet. He raids Mary's husband's room, and moodily wanders the city in a modernist way. Minor characters, like the landlady's cook, are described and then forgotten. Near the end there are a couple of pages on his (unexciting) escape from Russia. Purple prose (`But then who can tell what it really is that flickers up there in the dark above the houses - the luminous name of a product or the glow of human thought; a sign, a summons; a question hurled into the sky and suddenly getting a jewel-bright, enraptured answer?') vies with cliches (`in his mind's eye') and tautology (`fleeting evanescence'). Britishisms (`googly') are mixed up with Americanisms (`rowboats', `tow-trucks'), though this last might just be the translator. Occasionally however, the turgidity is semi-salvaged by wit: `[He] found the contents of the book so alien and inappropriate that he abandoned it in the middle of a subordinate clause'.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  21 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Three Greatest Russian Writers Ever 8 Mar 2007
By Becky Eckheart - Published on
If ever discussing Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, the conversation might inevitably turn towards Nobakov. One of the holy trinity of Russian writers, Nabokov, in "Mary", encompasses a whole array of human emotions. I don't want to give away the ending, but the impact is compounded in the final pages. Masterfully written, it keeps you turning pages to see what happens. It didn't turn out like I imagined, but I was not disappointed. Conversely, instead of being let down, my life went through a paradigm shift. Not a lot of books have done that to me, but this book is a rarity indeed.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic 24 Dec 2001
By Z. Liu - Published on
Putting my obsession for Nabokov and for first novels in general aside, reading this was still pure bliss. Sometimes narrative breaks for the author to sneak in some philosophical musing about memory, but somehow it fits. Immature writer syndrome, I suppose, which i've caught in my own work.
It is a book about first love, and losing her, and then finding her again, but engaged to another man, who's not half the man you are. Nabokov questions how much you're in love with only the memory, and whether finding the flesh and blood girl again will ever fill the hole that your memory and desire have dug.
Makes interesting reading next to Martin Amis' first work, The Rachel Papers.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Persistence of Memory 15 Mar 2011
By Amazon Customer - Published on
My millions of readers doubtless recall that I reviewed all the surviving novels by Philip K. Dick, of which there are 44. I now feel called upon by some sinister force to review all the completed novels of Vladimir Nabokov, of which there are only 17 (I'm also going to throw in his autobiography just for fun). Boy, am I asking for trouble.

After all, part of the reason Nabokov wrote fewer novels is that he worked and polished each one, and he loved to plant puzzles and traps in them. He had plenty of time and education to do so - he grew up in pre-Soviet Russia and fled to Berlin in his early adulthood. He taught languages and tennis and boxing, collected butterflies as he had in Russia, and published stories and chess problems in the Russian émigré press.

Chess problems, for God's sake. Let's face it, on the surface the guy sounds pretty useless. I suspect, however, that anyone who's spent time writing, teaching and collecting butterflies is aware of how much effort those activities require.

Nabokov's first novel, "Mary", certainly bears the stamp of careful attention. For one thing, it reads as though it was tossed off as an afterthought, with all kinds of seemingly unnecessary details and philosophical oddments all over the place. And I'm not entirely sure that the author organized each piece of flotsam into a meaningful grid, as James Joyce did with "Ulysses", say, but I'm pretty sure that no one can make a loose collection of events like this read so swiftly and pleasurably without a lot of skillful work.

The story is fairly simple. A young Russian exile named Ganin lives in a Berlin boarding house with a bunch of other Russian exiles. He's pretty bored, but can't seem to motivate himself to make any changes. His obnoxious neighbor, on the other hand, has at least one thing to look forward to - the man's wife, separated from him by the Russian Revolution for some years, is about to arrive. He's so excited, indeed, that he shows Ganin a few pictures of her, gushing over how wonderful she is. Lo and behold, the pictures of this wife show that she is Mary, Ganin's first love from an idyllic Russian country summer back in his teens.

Now, here's where the odd stuff begins. Ganin reacts to this news by breaking up with his girlfriend, a woman he was getting tired of anyway, and giving notice to his landlady. Obviously he intends to somehow convince Mary to leave her husband and run away with him, right? Well, it's not giving anything away to tell you that, after those initial bold action steps, Ganin spends the rest of the time before Mary arrives remembering their initial liaison all those years ago. This includes his recovery from typhus just before their first meeting, the places where they met in the rain, the other people in the local town, and even their attempts to continue their affair back in Petersburg the following winter. All of this becomes so real that Ganin's actual current life begins to seem like a dream to him.

Even at this early stage, Nabokov had a definite mastery of tone. The scenes from Ganin's past with Mary practically glow, with the colors and sounds and smells of life all over them, not to mention a few glancing references to the author's beloved butterflies and moths - it's no accident that Mary strikes Ganin as somehow less alive when she takes that lepidoptera-shaped ribbon out of her hair. Meanwhile, the events of contemporary life drift by in a flat grey manner. Ganin meanders around a young woman in the boarding house who loves him, despite the fact that she thinks she saw him stealing money from another boarder's room (he was actually looking for more pictures of Mary, of course). He meanders into helping another neighbor, an aging poet, to get a passport and visa to France, and when the attempt fails and provokes a heart attack in this neighbor, he meanders right out again. He meanders into a movie theater and notices that he himself worked as an extra in the movie on screen, and idly wonders how many people all over the world will see him. As I said, none of this reads anything like as immediate as the events of his past, which may explain why these details seem to wander into the story at random. They resemble dreams.

I speculate that those random details I mentioned before might be there to add to the contrast between the vivid past and the dull present. Everything in his current life strikes Ganin as pretty much the same while he's re-living his teen years; his neighbor's heart attack impacts him no more than his other neighbor's new job with a ballet company, or his landlady's evident inability to contend with the house's one servant. So the question is, if he (or you or I) find ourselves living in the past to that extent, what does that do to the life we're living now?

In a lot of the critical literature on Nabokov, we read about his interest in memory and its functions - even his autobiography is called "Speak, Memory" - so I'm curious to see how memory and the past appears in his later novels. In "Mary", we might expect Ganin's obsession with his past to leave him passive, or even stymied, in his present. What he actually does with his memories will probably surprise you. And thus we begin our journey with Nabokov, having learned that he's going to defy our expectations whenever he can. Sound good?

Benshlomo says, Dreams of the past have their place.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nabokov reads like a nostalgia suffused with lightning... 8 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on
First published under the title Mashenka, Mary is a lucid trip in and out of a man's fantasy. It is comic, despondent, and filled with illuminating details- the hole in a sock, the old hand that looks like a crinkled old leaf, ribbons. Each detail evokes, arouses the smell of memories. All the author has to do is insert an image into future narrative passages and this reader finds himself seemingly lost in time, remembering what the character remembers, in full color. This book hangs around for a while.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars My favorite of the Nabokov works 30 Dec 2012
By haruku - Published on
I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of Nabokov. Too often, I feel the sense that he's showing off his skill and just not getting to the point. Maybe I'm not the kind of reader he intended to write for, but I just don't enjoy the way he spins the stories in his novels, with the exception of Lolita. Surprisingly though, I find that his writing works well in short stories, or in this case, novellas. Quite frankly, I enjoyed the fact that the focus wasn't so much on the plot, but on the changes that the character undergoes psychologically. We take the initial premise of revisiting first love, and we see it being used as a cause for change. I'm not going to go into too much detail on major themes of the book, but I do want to put focus on one way of reading what Mary means to Ganin; yes, what spurs on the connection between the two is that of young, first love, but ultimately, it is memory, not love, that drives the man.
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