Sunday, March 17, 2013

Speak, Memory



I finished reading Nabokov's Speak, Memory on Feb 17, during our stay with T and D in Kingston. It is a beautifully written memoir, full of tender things in it. Tender because irretrievably lost. Chapter Five, to my mind, is the best thing in it. It's about Nabokov's French governess, Mademoiselle. Having moved from Switzerland to Russia, she was not only geographically but culturally displaced. After she returned to her own country, she would speak of her time in Russia as her best years. The chapter leavens the prevailing pathos of the book with good-natured comedy.

I do find myself resisting Nabokov's style a little. It has that over-deliberateness with which James Wood charges Flaubert. To paraphrase Woods very roughly, both writers press the cold gel of a detail too hard, and so it bears the marks of their fingers all over it. It'd hard to give up oneself entirely to a lover who is not half-swooning himself.


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