Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Little Nabokov

 Is Pnin Nabokov’s best book?   Passages like this one make me think it is:
How should we diagnose his sad case?  Pnin, it should be particularly stressed, was anything but the type of that good-natured German platitude of last century, der zerstreute Professor.  On the contrary, he was perhaps too wary, too persistently on the lookout for diabolical pitfalls, too painfully alert lest his erratic surroundings (unpredictable America) inveigle him into some bit of preposterous oversight.  It was the world that was absent-minded and it was Pnin whose business it was to set it straight.  His life was a constant war with insensate objects that fell apart, or attacked him, or refused to function, or viciously got themselves lost as soon as they entered the sphere of his existence.  He was inept with his hands to a rare degree; but because he could manufacture in a twinkle a one-note mouth organ out of a pea pod, make a flat pebble skip ten times on a the surface of a pond, shadowgraph with his knuckles a rabbit (complete with blinking eye), and perform a number of other tame tricks that Russians have up their sleeves, he believed himself endowed with considerable manual and mechanical skill.  On gadgets he doted with a kind of dazed, superstitious delight.  Electric devices enchanted him.  Plastics swept him off his feet.  He had a deep admiration for the zipper….


JMW said...

I haven't read nearly as much Nabokov as you have, but my experience of Pnin -- after one reading, which probably isn't enough -- is that it started extremely strong and then got exceedingly dull.

ANCIANT said...

That could be true. I'm only halfway through right now, and it is slowing down. The feats of language, though, are enough to keep me going.