Nabokov redux - Macleans.ca

Nabokov redux

The tangled story of bringing his last novel to print

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As his death from bronchitis approached in 1977, Vladimir Nabokov worked furiously on a short text with the working title of “Tool,” but finally realized it would never be finished to his perfectionist satisfaction. He instructed his wife Vera that, after his death, it should be destroyed forthwith. The 138 index cards of “Tool” were placed in a safe deposit box in the vault of a Swiss bank while Vera wrestled with her late husband’s injunction. From time to time, she enlisted sympathetic outsiders for advice. Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s distinguished biographer, was given a taste of the manuscript amid conditions of great secrecy during the mid-80s and advised against publication, an opinion he later rescinded. “People shouldn’t expect to be swept away,” he has said, tactfully. “It’s the kind of writing that induces admiration and awe but not engagement.” Those for whom Nabokov is, in the words of Martin Amis, “the laureate of cruelty”, see his deathbed decree as peculiarly vexing. But it was not unique. Virgil instructed his heirs to destroy The Aeneid, and was defied by the emperor Augustus. Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to burn all his papers, which included the novels we know as The Trial and The Castle. “Fortunately,” said Nabokov in his own lecture on Kafka, “Brod did not comply with his friend’s wishes.” And now Nabokov’s family has not complied with his.

The Guardian

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