Top critical review
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Good, but not great
on 27 July 2004
This was the first Nabokov that I have read, and there was certainly enough here to make me interested in reading more. That said, I found this book strangely unsatisfying. I came to it because Joseph Heller frequently cited its style as being very influential in the writing of 'Catch-22'. This perhaps gave me lofty expectations, and I could see the connections, but I couldn't in really bracket the two together. What they do share, is very black humour running through what are, ultimately, unpleasant events.
The story centres round a middle-aged man (Albinus) who falls for the coquettish charms of Margot, an ambitious child/woman who strings him along in order to squeeze cash and career opportunities out of their liaison. Albinus convinces himself that she loves him, a belief which causes his life to disintegrate around him. Margot turns out to be a pretty nasty piece of work, but his fascination has no limits, and the Albinus we see by the end of the book is a hideous, unrecognisable creature compared to the respectable gent we see at the start. 'Laughter...' contains all the themes that would later be incorporated into 'Lolita', so this can perhaps be seen as the prototype for that book.
Although I did enjoy it, and would recommend it as a reasonably quick and not too involved read, the tone of the book made it difficult for me to get into. The jaunty humour coupled with the dark events contributed to a slightly unreal, cartoonish feeling. This is reinforced by a fairly simplistic writing style. Perhaps this is part of the point, to confuse the reader's reaction to important events by making them seem somehow inconsequential or silly. The title of the book itself suggests this contrast. I was definitely sufficiently intrigued to want to read more of Nabokov's books, but I'm hoping that this one isn't his best.