Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Read & listen: Nabokov's "The Vane Sisters" & Girl in a Coma's "Sybil Vane Was Ill"


Nabokov's second to last short story, published in 1951. Features a device Nabokov said could "only be tried once in a thousand years of fiction." A fantastically unreliable narrator, word games, seances, planchettes, wacky women, and a paragraph to pay attention to:

     Speaking  of  old men, one should add that sometimes these
posthumous auspices and interventions were in the nature of
parody. Cynthia had been on friendly terms with an eccentric
librarian called Porlock who in the last years of his dusty
life had been engaged in examining old books for miraculous
misprints such as the substitution of l for the second h
in the word "hither." Contrary to Cynthia, he cared nothing for
the thrill of obscure predictions; all he sought was the freak
itself, the chance that mimics choice, the flaw that looks like
a flower; and Cynthia, a much more perverse amateur of
misshapen or illicitly connected words, puns, logogriphs, and
so on, had helped the poor crank to pursue a quest that in the
light of the example she cited struck me as statistically
insane. Anyway, she said, on the third day after his death she
was reading a magazine and had just come across a quotation
from an imperishable poem (that she, with other gullible
readers, believed to have been really composed in a dream) when
it dawned upon her that "Alph"' was a prophetic sequence of the
initial letters of Anna Livia Plurabelle (another sacred river
running through, or rather around, yet another fake dream),
while the additional h modestly stood, as a private
signpost, for the word that had so hypnotized Mr. Porlock. And
I wish I could recollect that novel or short story (by some
contemporary writer, I believe) in which, unknown to its
author, the first letters of the words in its last paragraph
formed, as deciphered by Cynthia, a message from his dead
mother.

1 comment:

ken said...

I got my grandfather's copy of Nabokov's Quartet (which contains this story and 3 others) sitting on a bookshelf, but I've never read it...thanks for kicking me in the arse, I'll check it out this weekend...

 

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