I've just finished reading Nabokov's Transparent Things, from which I'd like to quote: "For some people, alas, a gal is nothing but a unit of acceleration used in geodesy."
I had to look that up. It is.
The novel was interesting. Worth reading, if you like Nabokov. It's quite short -- about a hundred pages -- and somehow encapsulates most of the good and bad things about Nabokov's writing. He has some metaphysical ruminations on time, much like those in Ada, which are uninteresting and derail the story at points. Also irritating (to a physicist, at least) is his occasional use of the word "spacetime" when he means just "time." It's an attempt at -- what? cleverness? mockery? -- that fails to do anything but sound stupid.
As is often true of Nabokov, the book is at its best when it is both alive with brilliant prose, and compassionately focused on characters whose faults are sympathetically rendered. By now I've read enough Nabokov that his attempts at satirizing Freud have gotten old; they seem petulant rather than witty. But perhaps they were more necessary at that time than they are in the present. I imagine that a few decades from now they'll seem like a puzzling curiosity.
The book also recapitulates Nabokov's fascination with dreams. I think that here -- in exploring the boundaries between the real world and the oneiric world our minds construct, and implicitly or explicitly comparing these to the worlds he creates in his fiction -- he achieves a lot of interesting thought, much more interesting than his more direct assaults on philosophy.
One wonders what the book's central character, Hugh Person, an editor, would have done with it. In the book he edits the works of an author, R., who appears to mirror Nabokov in some ways, but Person is reluctant to alter the works of a genius. R. himself is angry when certain changes are suggested. It's as if Nabokov is mocking his own tendency to view his genius as infallible, but despite his awareness of this tendency he hasn't taken anyone's advice to fix some of the more glaring faults of the book.
Transparent Things is worth reading. It won't take up much of your time, after all. It's not one of Nabokov's best works, and it has some pretty obvious flaws, but there's more than enough genius on display at some points to justify the book.Posted by Matt at January 1, 2005 02:15 AM