Published two weeks after Vladimir Nabokov’s seventieth birthday, Ada, or Ardor is one of his greatest masterpieces, the glorious culmination of his career as a novelist. It tells a love story troubled by incest, but it is also at once a fairy tale, epic, philosophical treatise on the nature of time, parody of the history of the novel, and erotic catalogue. Ada, or Ardor is no less than the supreme work of an imagination at white heat. This is the first American edition to include the extensive and ingeniously sardonic appendix by the author, written under the anagrammatic pseudonym Vivian Darkbloom. One of the twentieth century’s master prose stylists, Vladimir Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899. He studied French and Russian literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, then lived in Berlin and Paris, where he launched a brilliant literary career. In 1940 he moved to the United States, and achieved renown as a novelist, poet, critic, and translator. He taught literature at Wellesley, Stanford, Cornell, and Harvard. In 1961 he moved to Montreux, Switzerland, where he died in 1977.
©1969 Vladimir Nabokov (P)2011 Brilliance Audio, Inc.
“Nabokov writes prose the only way it should be written, that is, ecstatically.” (John Updike)
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
There's a whole swath of novels I purchased in my twenties but knowing the authors' genius never felt quite ready to read (ah, tomorrow). It took me years to crack open these 'Infinite Jests', 'Moby-Dicks', these 'Recognitions' and 'Brothers Karamazovs', etc. Well, after reading 11 previous (not in time only in MY reading are some of these actually previous) Nabokov novels, and never really tripped by any, I was finally in the right spot in my life to read 'Ada, or Ardor' and give that novel the more than titular attention Nabokov's novels all demand.
Please remember people, this novel is so much more than a book about a cousin/brother who loves his cousin/sister. There is also another 1/2 sister involved, oh and IT is a book about time, memory, love. It is a novel about the past and the present (no not the future, never the future). IT is a romance of Tolstoy, Proust AND Time. IT is festooned with all the fantastic elements of Nabokov: his language, his structural genius, his playful doubling, his love of place and people. The whole novel is a giant painting where Nabokov unscrews all his paints and surrounds the canvas. He isn't satisfied with painting one side. No. The Big N wants to unwind and unroll that big cotton canvas, stretch it, and paint front and back. He wants to over-paint. HE will garish the floor, the ceiling, the walls. Nabokov hides stories within stories.
Reading Nabokov's great novels is like finding yourself alone in a beautiful park on a perfect day and suddenly your senses overwhelmed by the smell, the light, the butterflies and memories of your past. It is like an emotional contrast flush. Nabokov has intravenusly warmed you instantly from head to foot - and ZAP! WHOOP! WHOOP! Reading almost never ever gets better than Nabokov when the Master is on fire (Lolita; Pale Fire; Speak, Memory; and Ada, or Ardor).
I wouldn't have thought anybody could make Nabokov's wonderful prose sound this bad: grating, irritating and affected. In his mouth, all the characters sound like conceited, shallow, spoiled, self indulgent teenagers, instead of thoughtful, lyrical, mulitdimensional people. Yes, the characters are meant to be young and self absorbed, but they shouldn't sound like valley girls (and boys) with big vocabularies, insulated from real emotional life and development by even bigger bank roles. What a disappointment ! ! !
But, of course, it is Nabokov, and if you can some how tune out the ugly veneer applied by the reader, the story, and the language, are still there.
Anybody else, alone or with a cast, would be better.
"Ada or Ardor", written late in Nabokov's career, is a brilliant, hilarious and poignant story about two young people wildly in love who grow up to be two old people wildly in love. It takes place in an alternative world related to the one in which we live, but with interesting and peculiar differences (sort of sci-fi / fantasy). It is tricky, twisty and complicated but still lucid and and illuminating. I've read it several times over 30 years.
Regrettably, the narrator has a flat affect. I might be listening to a list of stocks and their values from the back pages of the newspaper. I found I could listen very closely - pretending there was no narrator but perhaps a computer generated voice - and then try to color the text with my own emotions. It didn't work out very well.
I hoped for a performance that recognized and illuminated the nuances of the text. It wasn't what I got. About 15% through the book I gave up.
It was virtually impossible to enjoy since Arthur Morey and his editors know neither Russian nor French. I would say perhaps they don't know English, either, but that would be piling on.
Never so long as I live. An embarrassment.
I cannot stress enough how terrible this reading is. Virtually every French word is mispronounced: each pun, allusion, and echo is lost. (And of course, being American, Morey sounds like a robot.) The editors, producers, and Audible should be embarrassed.
I love Nabokov, but I will admit that this is not one that will draw people to him. I think he is a genius, with some of the most beautiful writing and style, and Lolita was a revelation to me: the word play, the love of language, the literary allusions. But with Ada, we have his Ulysses, which makes it a little difficult to follow at times.
It's even hard to describe the "plot" as such; it is a biography of Van & Ada written by Van, with "interruptions" by Ada, & the editor at times, with perhaps some typos by the typist... Basically it is a sprawling chronicle of Van & Ada's lives, and of their love (very sexual at times) for each other.
I want people to read him and listen to his works, but I would start with the more straightforward and accessible novels: King Queen Knave, Laughter in the Dark, Defense, Mary, and Lolita, and get a feel for the poetic style and the way he uses different forms to reflect the content (one of the things i love) and then go on to more experimentally styled work: Invitation to a Beheading (a favorite of mine & which a friend also loved), Bend Sinister (great title, great book) Pale Fire.....
Actually, this novel (& Nabokov) makes me wish America had a more European attitude towards education and other cultures and then anyone could grasp so much more of it.
And listening to it, you miss a lot of the word play. I read it some time ago and liked it and caught some of the play, and I caught other things this time, but there is soooo much of it; literally almost every sentence has some play or allusion.
I think Ada is a bit like Ulysses. You can follow parts of the story, and I don’t think it’s as bad as Ulysses, but it is so densely packed with wordplay, and puns, and funny names, and allusions to myriad things from obscure sex words to other Nabokov novels and characters, to historical and literary characters and Russian, French, British and American literature to the point that almost every line or word has multiple lines of play woven in. In that sense it is like Ulysses.
That said, there are several moments where when you pick up on something it is very funny and I have been laughing out loud a couple times, but still so much got by me.
There is a web site Ada Online striving to annotate the whole novel and if you check it out just look at the first page and you'll see what's behind the scene so to speak.
Lolita is actually very much like Ada in this respect but the narrative “through line” is actually followable if you don’t catch any of the play.
I was thinking today that he may be the most brilliant author I’ve read or heard of. the depth of his knowledge in so many areas is phenomenal, not to mention his discovery and naming of a butterfly and all that scientific lingo. He knows fluently enough to play and pun etc in Russian, French, English, with at least a bit of German, Spanish, Latin, probably Greek and touching on Old English & I think a little Norse in Pale Fire and who knows what else, and sometimes he's punning and playing across 2-3 languages within a single word or line.
It is rather daunting and humbling reading him, especially Ada and Lolita, but he is more fun to me than Joyce because you can follow so much of his stories to some degree. and looking up annotations and stuff for his work is like a school lesson in itself.
Ada is the most densely allusive and punning of all his work I believe. (it’s amazing to me all the scholars who are sifting through his stuff and finding new allusions and connections and word play everyday in multiple languages, how can any one mind connect all this? If you're interested check out Zembla, a site full of VN info and links and criticism)
& he’s always parodying authors and some come in for a rough time, as in this bit from Ada about TS Eliot, a favorite target : “…a banker who at 65 had become an avant-garde author; in the course of one miraculous year he had produced The Waistline, a satire in free verse on Anglo-American feeding habits…”
i like to study him because I learn so much. but there is a point at which with certain works, (and Ada, and Ulysses are examples and we can name others) the only people who can instantly grasp them and love them are scholars.
the thrill i felt first reading Lolita and Defense and other VN was a revelation really, such exuberant love of words and literature, and then I also love the way, more than anyone else i knew of, that he tried to find a form for his novel that reflected the content in some way, Pale Fire being the most obvious example of that. (as is Faulkner's Sound and Fury & I think Melville's Moby Dick and Kosinski's Painted Bird, and I could go on )
i think that with experimentation you still need a character to feel for, and lacking that you can become less engaged emotionally even though you admire the experimentation. I think that is one criticism of VN, especially his work like Ada, where the game is more important, at least it seems, than the characters. Lolita even with the game still enthralled me and I “connected” with Humbert and Lolita, they are great personalities that still dominate the game and don’t get lost in the word play.
finally I have to say I'm not too enamored with this narrator; his voice is a bit too dry, and he doesn't get into the language and voices very well. I think Jeremy Irons did a magnificent reading of Lolita, and I wish they had found someone of that caliber for all of Nabokov. Some of the narrators are very good with Nabokov's work, but some leave me wishing...
I had listened to Jeremy Irons' reading of Lolita with amazement, but I was so taken with his narration that I may have underrated the writer. No longer. Ada, by Nabokov, reminds me of nothing so much as reading Proust when I was 23 - a transcendent experience. His facility with words, his play with time and place and history is flawless.
But this is not for the meek or faint of heart! It requires attention and devotion. Truly an extraordinary work.
The book is great, the audio book is not.
Have someone reading it who actually speaks the languages that are cited. At least he should be able to pronounce it correctly. Nabokovian books require that.
Cannot be fully appreciated on a first reading. Take your time with it, like you would with a painter's masterpiece.
I typically don't write reviews but there were reviews on this novel about how the narrator was subpar and it gave me pause but i'm glad i tried it anyway. I thought Arthur Morey did an admirable job. Do not let him keep you from enjoying this novel.
"Just not for me"
Reading other reviews I think this is a bit of a "marmite" book- love or hate it but not really any middle ground.
I fell into the latter.
I felt the book was more a showcase of literary techniques to show superiority and command of language and a continual attempt to shock than a story to be savoured and enjoyed.
I have no issues with subtle use of language but felt the switching between languages just distracted from the story - which if I'm honest I'm not really sure I could describe. I believe in text form it is a challenging read and for some that makes the best kind of book
I did make it to the bItter end -the performance was good which helped a lot but it just wasn't for me.
"An incestuous affair not for all the family"
It`s a brilliantly imagined fictitious world with its own history, culture and inventions. The characters are not especially sympathetic but the reader is drawn into their strange universe and views their fascinating lives up close.
There is a scene by the swimming pool at the beginning of the second fateful summer when the protagonist, Van, is witness to his beloved`s tangled relationships with three different men yet fails to penetrate the truth of her infidelity despite his forensic interrogation.
He did quite well, subtly modulating his tones to adapt to male and female characters.
Yes, it is a long novel but the narrative accelerates throughout the book.
Personally, I found it harder to appreciate Nabokov`s verbal dexterity aurally; I think one needs to see the words on the page to understand some of his puns and wordplay.
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