But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
Nabokov's violin playing in the void of a totalitarian nightmare. Invitation to a Beheading belongs in those 20th Century novels by Orwell, Huxley, Kafka and Koestler that explore the individual revolting against an absurd totalitarianism. Cincinnatus C is an opaque prisoner being punished by a translucent society for his gnostical turpitude. With a Gogol-like playfulness and a Kafkaesque absurdity and a linqusitic inventiveness that belongs solely to Nabokov,
'Invitation to a Beheading' explores the many ways the state (and society) acts to destroy or force conformity on those whose vision is different. Beware those who transgress social norms, your days are both numbered ... and infinite
I should give a quick intro and say that I rarely EVER, EVER re-read a book. I should also mention that 3 years ago I had never cracked Dante's Divine Comedy. Now, I am finishing the Divine Comedy for the 3rd time. I've read Pinsky's translation of the Inferno. I've read Ciardi. I've flirted with Mandelbaum and danced with Hollander, but from Canto 1 of Inferno/Hell to Canto XXXIII of Paradiso/Heaven, I can't say I've read a better version than the Clive James translation.
He replaced the terza rima (**A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D-E-E** a measure hard to write without poetic stretch marks in English) with the quatrain, and in doing so made the English translation his own. It gives the Divine Comedy the verbal energy and the poetry that makes inferior translations a slog and makes Dante so damn difficult to translate well. A mediocre translation might capture the stripes but lose the tiger. Clive James pulled off a master translation of one of the greatest works of art in any medium -- ever.
While this isn't my favorite Nabokov novel and I have to leave room and stars for its better, it is stil bold and amazing. Nabokov is one of those writers I will never tire of. He is imaginative, funny, tight and always just a little naughty. Despair is a false double novel that at once mocks, parodies and honors Crime & Punishment. It was like Nabokov set out to write a fanciful doppelgänger novel of Crime and Punishment, but felt like he would prefer to dress Raskolnikov up a bit; bend the mirror and make him fancy, turn him into a Russian emigre candy dandy.