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Laughter in the Dark, Vladimir Nabokov

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"Once upon a time there lived in Berlin, Germany, a man called Albinus. He was rich, respectable, happy; one day he abandoned his wife for the sake of a youthful mistress; he loved; was not loved; and his life ended in disaster."

Readers interested strictly in the bottom line might well stop there, with the synopsis of the entire story delivered in a single, short paragraph. Readers with the good sense to continue, however, will find themselves basking in the artistry of narration that is Laughter in the Dark . I think that this is among the best of Vladimir Nabokov's novels—which is high praise indeed, considering the oeuvre of this remarkable writer.

Albinus behaves badly, forsaking the wife and daughter who did love him for the gamine of eighteen who did not. Even so, Nabokov's narration makes it difficult not to pity the man in the face of Margot's manipulation and the dreadful treatment dished out by her lover Rex. Albinus understands only when it's too late.

Giving his carnal appetite higher priority than his responsibilities as a husband and father, Albinus supposes that as long as he provides financial support, all will be well (enough) and that he will still maintain his place in respectable society. His failure to see his actions through to their end leaves him vulnerable to disaster and his lust leaves him vulnerable to exploitation. What else but tragedy could follow?

Nabokov's genius is evident in his ability to draw the reader into a story after having given it away in the first paragraph. His prose is almost perfect, a harmonious balance of rhythm and economy: I didn't want to put the book down, though I did force myself to go slowly, to savor the text.

Not a happy story by any means, but one in whose reading there is profit.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2007-05-18 08:44 PM
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