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Vladimir Nabokov - Laughter in the Dark
on 13 January 2009
When I read in the afterword that Nabokov once claimed this his "worst novel", I was amazed. I admit I've only read Pale Fire and Lolita (both superb, the first a fab intellectual piece of fictonal ambiguous jigsaw-puzzling, the second just flat-out superb), but this I enjoyed just as much. It's certainly doesn't strike one as being quite as zestily written as Lolita, or as devilish as Pale Fire, it is certainly a fine novel. I can only say this: Nabokov's worst novel stands head and shoulders above many other novelist's best. Laughter in the Dark is a clever, sprly written (Nabokov's sentences are, even if not the finest he would come to write, still remarkable, and sparkle with pixie-like intelligence) novel of one man's destruction at the hands of a young female mistress. It's melodramatic to say it, but the novel is worth reading almost for it's first paragraph alone.
It's sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, sometimes shocking, and there are certain bits which make you loath certain characters. There are times when it's chattery like a movie, times (the remarkable final scene), when it's the sightless equivalent of a silent film. I loved every page. It reads quickly, and he packs a lot into a very small space. He might have thought it his least accomplished novel, but it's also the most accesible of his I've read so far, and an ideal starting place. He's one of the centuries very finest writers, no question.