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on 13 December 2004
To write a review of Ada is almost impossible except to say that it is the book in which Nabokov, the greatest prose stylist in English, uses his mastery of the language and his great knowledge of European literary history to his greatest extent and evidently enjoys himself! The whole book is choc-a-bloc with word-play, literary puzzles, allusions to other works, hidden quotations, alliteration, streams of consciousness, history, science fiction, dollops of French, helpings of Russian, laces of Latin, poetry, catalogues of erotica, and many many other things..this is a literature lover's delight but requires great concentration; however, even more so than Lolita, the dedicated reader will be delighted and rewarded like he or she has never been before. This is Nabokov at his literary peak. Rarely can any writer of English have written prose of this calibre. Awe-inspiring is the only word I can think of to describe it.
The plot, as it is, deals with the love story between Ada and Van Veen who happen to be first cousins from their first meeting as young teenagers to their old age and eventual death and is set in a parallel world to Earth called Antiterra which is similar to--yet different in some geographical and historical aspects-- to our own Earth (or Terra)...
It is quite a long book too (500 odd pages of dense text) but eminently worth the effort and time. The only problem is once you have read Nabokov, and especially Ada, no other novel gives as much pleasure afterwards so every other fictional book afterwards pales in comparison (so far...)! I would give my left arm to be able to write prose like this!
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VINE VOICEon 17 March 2006
The key to understanding this novel and it's inevitable enjoyment is revealed by Nabokov's insight into the illusory nature of time and space. The story is set in a fantastical Eden like world of aristocratic privilege, incest, botanical and zoological manifestations and subverted morality. The essence of this historical memoir is seen through the recollections of Van and his one and only 'true' love Ada. Their memories are relics of a distant past (spanning ninety years), contorted by their childhood passion, shaped and manipulated by subsequent events, and deformed by the nature of time itself. The present, or 'nowness' being the only tangible impression that can ever have any meaning for conscious thought. Indeed it is this aspect of the novel that controls the parallel universe in which the story unfolds. Memories that are dependent on the recollections of the moment and not based on an exact sequence of past events. These events are to be seen as shadows of human existance, lengthening and shortening over time, nourishing thought with emotional intensities and altering perceptions of the past. Through this vista Nabokov offers a lush insight into the nature of love and decay.
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on 29 July 2008
Honestly, there is more in this book than can be taken in upon first reading, it is staggeringly good. Nabokov rated it his best and, of course, it is. Yes, Lolita is subversive and brilliant, Pale fire is hilarious and genius and original, but this is MESMERISINGLY complex and beautiful, a rich tapestry of love and philosophy and sex and family turmoil and it is BETTER. It is a better book judging by any criteria that Nabokov would have deemed worthwhile and unlike the established classics listed above, I don't think people read this one which is essentially the culmination of Nabokovs writing career, his great work.

It's not for everyone, I mean, I struggled with it and I REALLY REALLY wanted to read it - I barely broke the surface. If you want a romp look elsewhere, you have to work for this, it's rich and deep and subtle but ultimately rewarding. It's also hugely pretentious, but that's Nabokov. He knew he was the man, he knew he was smart and he filled this novel, as he did his others, with arrogant wordplay, quips, literary jigsaws and a world of other things. Also, it takes place on another earth, another dimension and the....I can't even describe it.

Just read it, take your time and don't worry if you don't get it because you will, eventually, after you realise that Nabokov is better than you and that it's ok to admit that.

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on 25 September 2009
A work of genius, and possibly Nabokov's most Joycean, intertextual work.
A perverse family saga set in an imaginary world, tantalisingly close to but strangely different to ours. Moving and provocative.
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on 13 May 2003
I'll say straight away that this is one of my favourite books, and one that I often come back to. However, no one who does not like a challenge should bother to attempt it. Like 'Moby Dick' or 'Ulysses' it takes time and patience. And, like these two classics, it is very much worth it.
The world it creates is mid-atlantic and trans-european, like Gorbachev's idea of a Common European Home from the atlantic to the urals, with north america thrown in. It is, in fact, the personal world which Nabokov inhabited, modern america founded in Russia.
There are countless references to other classics and much fun is to be had spotting them. In a delicious twist he references his own previous work too. The writing is awe-inspring, the central characters perfectly drawn. Will they / won't they? It is pure anticipation. No one writes like this any more.
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on 10 October 2014
This time Nabokov’s pet theme of true, lasting, first, yet socially-unacceptable love comes in the form of an incestuous relationship that lasts from the character’s adolescence until their nineties. The characters repeatedly reference Proust, which is fitting, as the book is obviously a paean to that author. It’s written in the form of a manuscript that has been edited by the two main characters—they have conversations in the margins about what should stay or go. This is the first time that I noticed the similarities between Nabokov and Gunter Grass in the way they handle the earthier aspects of their characters’ lives, but if you like this I'd recommend Grass' The Tin Drum.
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on 2 November 2012
Ada confounded even the Nabophiles, like John Updike and Martin Amis. Gore Vidal said, with his usual lofty confidence, "No-one has ever finished Ada." Well, that's just not true. There are plenty of us who adore this rich Christmas pudding of a book and who consider it one of Nabokov's great masterpieces. Ingredients: blend literary allusions, set pieces, biographical pastiche, quasi-academic irony, fantasy-history, warped physics, cinematic flourishes and tragedy. Marinade for several decades in a sauce of sly whimsy, surrealism and sentiment. Serve, when ready, with brandy sauce.

Ada is Nabokov unfettered. His demise was still seven years away, but he already saw its stealthy approach. So, he immortalized himself and Vera while he still could in a story that both saluted and played with their own histories, desires and literary preferences, relocating the two of them onto the same glorious Antiterra where now, post-life, they stroll together eternally.

Ada is a work whose time has not yet come. One day, people will see it for the astonishing work of whimsical genius it is. It will be studied in university courses with Tristram Shandy and Gulliver's Travels. It will be read with delight and alluded to by friends in everyday conversation. Its day will come.
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on 11 May 2015
The best novel ever written in the English language (I was tempted to say "any language", but that would have been mere hyperbole). One reviewer wrote "The only problem is once you have read Nabokov, and especially Ada, no other novel gives as much pleasure afterwards so every other fictional book afterwards pales in comparison". I agree with that statement so much, that I was moved to write this review. This is book is beyond genius and is the culmination and apex of any writing in novel form.
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on 4 December 2011
Reading this is the literary equivalent of going on a training run with Usain Bolt. You keep pace with him, putting in the effort and enjoying the company of one of the greats, and then he effortlessly accelerates away with an apologetic smile. All you can do is watch in breathless admiration and laugh youself sick. Is Vlad the greatest writer of prose fiction? I think so. Is this his finest work? I think so.
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Try as I might, I simply cannot get myself to enjoy or even appreciate this book. I am a longtime Nabokov fan and have read most of his books as well as several biographies and literary studies on the man. The only conclusion that I can reach is that, in this novel that followed the huge success of Lolita, Nabokov somehow lost his self-critical facility and wrote it faster and with far fewer drafts, convinced by the critics' pronounements that he was a genius (and he certainly was) and hence couldn't go wrong. This is what many of his critics and academic specialists say about this book - that it is sloppy and indulgent, and certainly nothing like his best work - and for once I completely agree with them.

Now a lot Nabokov devotees make fancy arguments about how this is his ultimate acheivement, a kind of cryptic Finnegin's Wake that engages the reader into a curious notion of time, etc etc. Well, apart from my own idolisation of this fabulous writer, I really did not see anything to justify this in this book, unless you like such banalities as "I don't analyse, I describe" or Van Veen putting on sunglasses and wondering if the tint influences his sense of time. Alas, a simpler explanation is that, in a fit of self-intoxication, the Nab got lazy with this book and simply blew it.

With all due respect to one of the greatest writers of the 20C, this book is too long, many of the scenes ring hollow, and the story is really strange.

Not recommended.
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