Look at the Harlequins! (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 27 Jun 1991
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'He did us all an honour by electing to use, and transform, our language'
From the Back Cover
Focusing on the central figures of his life--his four wives, his books, and his muse, Dementia--the book leads us to suspect that the fictions Vadim has created as an author have crossed the line between his life's work and his life itself, as the worlds of reality and literary invention grow increasingly indistinguishable. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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On the larger questions of plot and characterization one runs into the central issue of judging a fictionalized autobiography. It's difficult to assess how much is gained by this approach, that is to say the broader relevance of this approach beyond Nabokov's own life. I wasn't as bothered going through by the question of how much Vadimovich's life resembled Nabokov--though I do have a strong urge to read Speak, Memory now. I was most curious on how the explicit political views compared, the sensory details and subjective actions I'm prepared to accept as fundamentally novelistic. And in that light it's a worthwhile story, tracking Vadimovich's travels and life of quiet escape. Like Ada (although less effectively) the story's structure grounds memory, with both explicit judgement and
So, in conclusion a very strong work which I heartily recommend. I'm pretty sure that everyone wouldn't enjoy it, though, and I'm not even sure that I'm in the ideal position to read it--perhaps I would like it more or less if I'd read all of his earlier work and had a closer awareness of his life (although the Vintage Three Volume edition had a nice detailed timeline at the back that provided a fair bit of context). Maybe my approach to not ending with the last is flawed after all. Although perhaps this (call it a) novel is most valuable not for the direct story but for the way it destabilizes categories of thought and memory, including an explicit destabilizing of fact/fiction and story/self. Of course all fiction has an element of the auto-biographical in it, but making this trend much stronger can cause some interesting breakdown.
This work reminded me of but was better than: Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year.
This work reminded me of but was worse than: Nabokov's Ada.
Yes, it appears to be a "fictionalized" autobiography of Nabokov, with some key changes (Nabokov professed to be most content with life, while the same could not be said for LATH's protagonist-cum-"author", Vadim Vadimovich). Thus, one will not get much out of the book unless one has read N's other work and knows a bit about his life.
What make this novel truly enjoyable are (a) N's trademark wordplay (not as great as in "Lolita" and "Ada", but still magnificent); (b) small moments of genuine joy (as in the coy but cute resolution of Vadim's psychological conundrum); and (c) some excellent Nabokovian narrative tricks: Vadim feels he is living someone else's life and at one point appears to be on the verge of realizing that he is, in fact, Vladimir Nabokov (try wrapping your mind around that!)--only to have the epiphany slip away.
LATH should (as another reviewer recommended) be saved for last. Those who do get around to reading it, though, will almost surely enjoy it. I get a kick just thinking of the old guy--pushing 75, but still as vibrant and full of tricks as ever. That he never won a Nobel Prize is an terrible shame.
and finally perhas, at the ontological conceit of a fixed self that could be wholly either one or another. The protagonist here is a dialectical monster flitting between Nabokov and Humbert Humbert, a monster Nabokov himself capture's like a moth between LATH's pages. The last, and in some ways perhaps richest novel from a modern master.