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3.2 out of 5 stars
Mary (Penguin Great Loves)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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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This is a wonderful little novel from Nabokov. He seems to have distinct styles, some of which I vastly prefer - I don't much care for his attempts at being Kafkaesque, e.g. Despair and Invitation to a Beheading, he should leave that to Kafka, but I greatly admire the majority of his other stuff. This is a great little introduction, and his first novel. It's short, can be read in an hour or two, is wonderfully written (evocative and moving) and rather the most "realistic" of his novels that I've read. It's funny, it's bitter, it's clever, it's sly, it's got a strange heart beating in it somewhere. Very good indeed.
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on 30 July 2015
Nabokov's first novel touches upon the themes he would dive into with later novels: such as Lolita, Pale Fire and Laughter in the Dark. A constant theme of the book is the loss of a first love, which in this case is the mystical title character, who only shows up in the protagonist's fantasies. Although you could tell it was his first novel, in that the techniques he'd come to master were only being used to a limited extent, it is still a very good novella and a suitable starting point for those who want to read beyond Lolita.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2009
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
on 31 May 2010
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'.

The book is short but still full of wasted words. The point-of-view and narrative voice are all over the place, and the plot is derisory. And the final cop-out of the big scene seems a failure of nerve of the writer as much as of the main character. The novel, in Penguin's `Great Loves' series, said nothing to me about love, and is not great, even if the author (as everyone knows) wrote much better later in his career. It's quick to read though, if anyone wants to have a look and tell me what I'm missing? :-)
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