The long story short: Dmitri Nabokov had what existed of his father’s unpublished The Original of Laura. When his father died, still notoriously nuanced and controlled in form, the instructions were to destroy the material. But Dmitri didn’t. He vacillated for years on what to do — as others campaigned — before finally deciding to publish the material.
Nabokov worked on index cards, and The Original of Laura amounted, at his death, to 138 of them. But rather than simply printing the texts of the cards one after another, or even printing each one on a separate page, Knopf has put the whole thing on heavy, stiff card stock and given us a facsimile of each and every card, its handwritten contents typeset underneath. And on the reverse of each page, a facsimile of the back of the card, almost invariably blank or consisting of nothing more than a large “X” in pencil strokes.
The cards are perforated and, as Dmitri says in a note, “can be removed and rearranged, as the author likely did when he was writing the novel.” … The first breaks new ground in editorial chutzpah, inviting us to play a kind of Nabokov: Rock Band–the novel as theme park.
And TNR hates this. Why? “The claim, in other words, is that Nabokov wanted the final product to look more or less like this–that he planned to create a fragmentary work, a thing of gaps and interruptions, false starts and aborted scenes, broken chapters and missing words.”
The reviewer disagrees with that premise, finds it opposite Nabokov’s style, thinks scraps matter little, dislikes the son’s writing, believes the father destroyed other passages, thinks the cards make no statement on Nabokov’s career themes, and doesn’t like paying $35 for the book.
I agree completely, so I’m paying $25 online.
Overreaching theories, weak notes, canon issues. Who cares? When greatness leaves behind a Choose Your Own Adventure (or a Nabokov: Rock Band), I’m glad to get the pieces and not a third party’s reading. TNR may want a reading experience, but I’m fine with a writing one.