One From the Archive: ‘Mary’ by Vladimir Nabokov **

First published in May 2014.

Another book which I borrowed from the lovely Cambridge Central Library, determined as I am to really enjoy at least one of Vladimir Nabokov’s books.  I decided upon borrowing it that if Mary, like Speak, Memory and Lolita, was a three star read or below, I would not go out of my way to read any more of Nabokov’s books.  Surprise, surprise then, that Mary was only worthy of a two star review in my opinion. 

I had no idea what the novel was about when I first picked it up, but I believed that as the work had been translated in collaboration with the author, it would at least be relatively true to the original.  The novel begins in Berlin, in a pension which was ‘both Russian and nasty’, and which hosts inhabitants as diverse as a Russian poet and two ballet dancers who are ‘both as giggly as women’.  Mary, the titular character, is the wife of Aleksey Alfyorov.  As I have found before with his work, the way in which Nabokov crafts his prose is lovely, but the conversations between his characters often feel stiff, awkward and unnatural.  The descriptions throughout are neither as grand, nor as frequent as they are in Lolita, and the characters never quite cross the line into feeling like real, rather than imagined, beings.  Like Lolita, the novel is almost entirely fixated upon relationships, sexual desire, and frustration.  The story did not grip me at first, and whilst it does become marginally more interesting as one reaches the halfway point or so, it soon becomes a little dull again.  The uneven plot and abrupt ending have not allowed me to award Mary more than two stars, and on reflection, I feel that even that is a little generous.

Purchase from The Book Depository


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