Tuesday, October 29, 2013

King, Queen, Knave

I enjoy Nabokov a great deal, I'm not sure why. It has something to do with how he narrates, the way he lets us see the world through his eyes. I like his books best when they focus not on events, but on the thought processes of his characters. And this, his second novel, gives plenty of opportunity for that, having more or less exactly three characters. Every time I read his work, it makes me think about the nature of storytelling. He performs a marvelous piece of sleight of hand in this one, gradually letting the characters shift roles and (spoilers ahead) letting the antagonist become the protagonist, and the love interest become the villain. I can't say I've every experienced anything quite like that. I wonder if Nabokov was thinking this way, likening his characters to cards in a deck, and then performing a magic trick with them? Also, quite unexpectedly, the art of creating humanoid robots becomes a key part of the story... check this out...
The secret of this motion lay in the flexibility of voskin -- the very special stuff with which the Inventor had replaced live bones and live flesh. The two pseudopodia of the original voskiddy seemed alive not because it moved them (a mechanized "strollie" or zhivulya are after all no rarity, they breed like rabbits on sidewalks around Easter or Chiristmas) but rather because the material itself, animated by a so-called galvanobiotic current, remained active all the time -- rippling, tensing, slackening as if organically alive or even conscious, a double ripple grading into a triple dapple with the smoothness of reflections in water. It walked without jerking -- this was the wonder of it. 
Anyway, at first I thought this was going to be a rather straightforward and dull love story... but it changes directions again and again, and I found myself quite haunted by it. I can't say I'm sure how I feel about it, but I know I can't stop thinking about it. The characters and scenes won't go away, and I'm sure that Dreyer with a pistol was in my dreams last night.

And of course, there's a dash of chess and butterflies.

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