Month: September 2012

To Live Forever

To Live ForeverTo Live Forever by Jack Vance was first published in 1956.  I think it can be considered Vance’s first “real” novel.  I found my copy for $1 at a comic book store, of all places.  My copy is the second edition 1976 by Ballantine Books.  The cover art was by Dean Ellis.  It is also the first Vance novel that I have read.

This novel is another dystopian story.  Overall, I found the book a good, average read.  And this is pretty good, because I was concerned that the first novel of this author might not be great and also that the story would be dated and tedious.  However, it really does not seem dated at all and as a early novel by the author, it’s a solid entry.  There are problems, though. For one thing, there just was not “enough” science in the science fiction.  There seemed like there might be – particularly in the first half of the novel when the main character finds a way to manipulate his memories, but then the science disappears.  Another reason that I only give this novel three stars is because the relict/clone/surrogate scheme is never really fully explained – or, I suppose, I was too dense to figure it out.

In this dystopian future society, the highest class of citizens have clones.  How many, by what real means, etc. was a little confusing and a bit sketchy.  Maybe other readers will have a better time of it than I did.  I get the general concept and I shrug my shoulders at any attempt to figure it out further. So there’s clones. Okay – moving on. The whole point of the novel is that a stratified society of classes has been developed.  This is not an organic development, but an artificial one that is the society’s official policy.  It was instituted presumably to avoid Malthusian catastrophe; specifically the problems arising from overpopulation.

The classes of the society are a form of meritocracy wherein the “slope” of one’s life is measured and ranked.  There are several strata – and each individual can progress, via striving, to a higher level.  The goal is to reach the highest level:  Amaranth.  As one progresses upward through the strata, one’s life is extended by medical procedures.  Instead of making the procedures to extend life available to all – it is granted based on the striving/slope merit of the individual.  The top level, Amaranth, is reached by the fewest members of society and one is awarded immortality (life through a number of clones, etc.).

Although this meritocracy of classes was instituted in order to save the population from a lack of resources and to provide order, it is really a sham.  The ratio that governs the population and promotion is hindering.  Also, it is not entirely “fair” because those in power have more say in the matter than they ought to.  Finally, this ordered policy was to reduce stress and misery in society, however it has had the opposite effect.  A very high percentage of the population suffers from mental breakdowns due to the stress of their striving/slope efforts.

The main character is Grayven Warlock/Gavin Waylock.  I think on the back of the book it even reads Garven Waylock.  So, basically, it gets a bit unsteady.  The main character is a “glark” – which is a person who is not participating in the official Fair-Play policy.  This amounts to about a fifth of the population.  Glarks do not strive and are much like the Other-Outsider class of the system.  The individual Grayven Warlock, however, had reached Amaranth and was involved in a criminal situation and therefore was forced to escape by becoming part of the glark segment of population.

Glarks live in Carnevalle – an almost lawless eudaemonia wherein the citizens of Clarges come to play, act-out, and otherwise blow off the stresses of their striving.  Waylock begins his quest to once again reach Amaranth after running into an Amaranth named Jacynth Martin while in Carnevalle.   Needless to say, Waylock ends up causing a revolution.  The latent frustration at the official system that runs deep in the lower classes of the society is expressed in certain groups like the Witherers, but Waylock does not align himself with any group.  He is self-centered and seems almost completely amoral.

As you can see, Vance really developed an interesting dystopian society.  The novel itself is heavy on presenting the difficulties of striving/slope/fairness.  It indirectly calls into question the fairness and ethics of characters individually and as a whole.  In the end, it even suggests that such a system is full of artificial and meaningless striving, which has stifled any real creativity and striving that is inherent in humans.  Throughout we meet various characters that represent different views of the society.

This is a very good novel to be read in a political philosophy class, a comparative literature class, and even as representative of the anti-hero archetype.  However, as a science fiction novel, I can only give it three stars.  I feel the overall pacing of the novel was slow, fast, slow, fast, slow fast…. in other words, it had moments where things picked up and were very intense, but then things always fell down and plodded along again.  The characters are not really developed much. Jacynth Martin seems really bizarre, but Vance does attempt to explain her motivations.  Waylock, overall, did not strike me as any more amoral or monstrous than other characters, he just seemed to be a lot more luckier than he should be.  I would have liked a little more about the cloning-situation.

3 stars

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X-O Manowar #1 (2012)

X-O Manowar

X-O Manowar #1; Valiant Entertainment (2012)

X-O Manowar is a comics character that was created in 1992 by Jim Shooter, Bob Layton, and Joe Quesada. If you are unfamiliar with those names – they are some of the big Marvel creators in the 1970s and 1980s.  I could bore you with details about company properties within and without Marvel Comics and Valiant Entertainment. Somehow, though, I feel that would deflate any excitement over the actual comic book – so let’s just move onward.

X-O Manowar is science fiction – and is a really good fix for someone who is a big science fiction fan.  On Free Comic Book Day 2012, I got the preview by Valiant comics that featured X-O Manowar.  I was excited, of course, because the cover art looks fantastic. I added it to my pull list at my local comic book store.  Well, it took forever for my issues to come in (don’t ask….).  In my travels I found a clean copy of X-O Manowar #0 from 1993 for $1.  And then one weekend at my comic book store – all of the first four issues of the current run of the title arrived!

I read the 1993 issue and enjoyed it. The cover is a glossy-foil cover by Quesada and Jim Palmiotti and shows X-O Manowar in front of an explosion in space.  It looks like early 1990s cover art – but it should catch the eye of any science fiction fan. Space. Lasers. Armor. Finally I read the first issue of the 2012 volume.  This is another really awesome cover. I say that because it has such a science fiction feeling to it – and the coloring, which highlights only X-O Manowar – makes the cover really eye-catching, I think.

X-O Manowar #0

X-O Manowar #0; Valiant 1993

This newest issue keeps, more or less, to the same overall storyline as presented in the old #0 1993 issue.   Aric Dacia is a Visigoth. He, and all the men in his clan, fight the Romans.  Generally, the Visigoths get walloped by the Romans.  In the 1993 version Aric’s father Rolf dies in single combat as Roman troops have entered his home. In the 2012 version, Rolf is wounded on the battlefield, Aric brings him home, but Rolf dies in his bunk.  Either way, the son is enraged and develops an even more acute desire for vengeance.

That night, the Visigoths discover a “Roman transport” and Roman troops. What has happened is the Visigoths mistake aliens for Romans. Led by the emotional and rash Aric, the Visigoths attack the alien ship and are (no surprise here) defeated.  The aliens haul the surviving Visigoths onboard and take off into space.  From the moment Aric regains consciousness, his thoughts are on escape and vengeance.  He’s still a bit muddled about who he is actually fighting – but that does not matter too much to him.  Frankly, I prefer the setup in the 2012 version a bit more than the 1993, but both are good science fiction fun.  The 1993 issue takes the storyline a bit further in the first issue, but I think the 2012 ends at a good stopping point for the issue.

Now, that is a really choppy data-dump sort of introduction to X-O Manowar.  But what I feel readers should take away from my review here is that X-O Manowar fills this little niche in comic books that exists between the superhero and the soap opera drama in comic books.  There are not too many true science fiction comics out there.  Marvel Comics publishes a group of titles that they refer to as their cosmic titles. These include things like Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, and Quasar.  However, none of these titles are currently running. Some of the trouble with those titles is that they are contained within the overarching Marvel Universe – so a great deal of familiarity with the Marvel Universe makes them more readable, hence more enjoyable.  But sometimes, too, superheroes show up within the pages.

I like X-O Manowar because it is also fun – there is a rambunctious Visigoth who is kidnapped by aliens and who bonds with their special power armor – which can only be worn by “the worthy.”  Let me cash this out for you a bit further:  a barbarian, who is fighting Roman soldiers, is taken into space by aliens and acquires power armor. If you do not like that last phrase I typed there….. I cannot help you. You are not truly a science fiction fanatic.   Sure, this might not be literature, but this sure is fun and it makes me happy! Enjoy your sci-fi!

4 stars

The Man in the High Castle

TMHCThe Man in the High Castle is the fourth Philip K. Dick novel that I have read.  It was first published in 1962 and it won a Hugo Award in 1963.  I will state right away that I am only giving the novel two stars because I have read better from PKD. Also, this novel was not as easy to breeze through and immerse within as the other novels by PKD that I have read were.  I think that the concepts in this novel are five-star concepts, no doubt. But I am docking for execution.

This is easily a good novel for discussing lots of philosophical ideas.  It would probably be best read within a reading group.  Some of the neat philosophical ideas PKD throws out there include:

  • historicity
  • notion of fakes/counterfeits versus value of original/authentic
  • the Japanese concept of Satori
  • duties to State versus duties to Self

But overall, the part of the novel that makes it qualify as science fiction is that it presents an alternate reality. I want to say a bit more on this point, but that would involve giving away spoilers.  Suffice it to say, PKD again makes the reader question reality – is this the really real or a false reality?

There are a whole mess of characters in this novel and the plot does not necessarily just hinge on one of them alone. I think I prefer books with a clear main character. I sometimes had a difficult time remember who was who and what and where. I hope your German is better than mine, because I had no mind for German names, phrases, or places. However, if you are a WWII buff, you may find this book of some interest.

Anyway, the character that I liked the most and followed most avidly was Nobusuke Tagomi – a trade missioner in Japanese-controlled San Francisco.  I think it is with this character that PKD gives his all in terms of character development and also the thread of the I Ching that runs through the novel.  Tagomi is the only character that I could feel sympathy for and was interested in. I think this is because PKD manages to pull off an “authentic” traditional Japanese persona here, whereas with the other characters, they are only playacting at their heritage/ethnicity.  For example, most of the Germans seem too obvious and the other Asian characters seem almost simulacra of stereotypes or something.

One thing this novel excels at – without a doubt – is presenting the concept of authentic/false.  This is done with objects, art, people, countries, beliefs, names, and even such small details as hair color and clothing.  This novel could really just be a study in simulacra and simulation. (In case you’re curious, no, no connection from Baudrillard’s book, which was published in 1981.)  If you are interested in the Philosophy of Art and are curious about the ideas of forgeries and fakes versus imitation – this would probably interest you, as well.

Ultimately, this book would interest a lot of readers for a variety of different reasons and aspects. However, the one group I do not really recommend it for is the science fiction audience.  This book is a little less psychological and a little less science fiction than the other PKD books that I have read, and maybe that is why I am only giving it two stars.

I hated the character Juliana Frink with great animosity. As soon as we meet her in the novel, I want to make her go away. It kind of sucks that she ends up as a device for the big reveal at the end. Overall, I find her to be a hideous person and I do not know who PKD modeled her after, but I am sorry for them.  Juliana is an annoying, sickening, vexing character. A novel with her in it cannot get more than two stars, sorry!  Also, I am starting to believe maybe the Hugo Awards are on crack…..

2 stars

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Mysterious AffairI finished Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles.  This is the Bantam 1974 edition.  This is actually Agatha Christie’s first published novel (1920) and it also introduces the famous Hercule Poirot. In 1990, an episode based on this novel was aired as part of the Agatha Christie’s Poirot series in the UK.

All things considered, this is a really good first novel.  I mean, let’s face it, some writers published dozens of books nowadays and never reach this level of novel.  Not that this is a great novel, by any means, but there is an inherent quality to it that seems almost lacking in a lot of the mass-marketed novels.  I am not trying to be overly critical, but I really can appreciate the efforts of Christie in this novel.

The plot is really kind of lame – especially in 2012.  But it is necessary for the reader to at least try to keep in mind that the setting and culture of Christie’s novel is very different from our own.  This novel takes place at Styles Court.  This is a manor house on a large property.  Again, not something that many Americans in 2012 have a referent for.  It takes place during the time of WWI, which does not overweigh the novel, but hints of the effects of the war pepper the novel nicely.

The novel is narrated by the main character, Arthur Hastings.  He is invited to spend time at Styles Court by his friend John Cavendish.  And this whole part of the novel seems really strange and foreign.  Inviting people to stay – for almost an entire summer – at one’s house is rare.  Particularly if these people are not even close family.  And then, after a murder occurs (or any like tragedy) for those houseguests to stay onward and not leave also seems odd by today’s standards.  I feel a lot more awkwardness and discomfort would be called for.  But being a houseguest at a country manor during WWI is not exactly something I have experience with.

We are introduced to Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot – and he is enigmatic, weird, and arrogant.  He also comes across in this novel as loveable, intelligent, and quirky.  He’s actually quite loveable as a character.  And often Hastings gets frustrated with Poirot, but remains drawn to this Belgian eccentric because Hastings, too, has a mind and heart for the detective scenarios. Poirot is probably the descendent of Sherlock Holmes – the odd, brilliant, English detective – but there’s no fun in comparing the two at this point.  Poirot and his Belgian-French are a whole lot of fun and though the reader, too, is frustrated with Poirot’s antics (he constantly hints and misdirects, but never really unfolds all of his ideas) the reader also learns to cherish the character’s exuberance.

As I mentioned above, the plot is lame.  And the whole thing is a bit convoluted.  Poirot is frustrating.  And there’s really no way the reader can guess early on who is the murderer and why.  So why am I giving this four stars?  Because the writing is so erudite – Christie’s prose leaps from the page.  The writing is beautiful – not stilted or cluttered.  There are no unnecessary pages of descriptions, purple prose, or filler chapters.  The author’s actual use of language is very good.  None of this seems carbon copy from “How to Write a Novel in a Month,” so to speak.  In laymen’s terms:  it’s just a really charming read.  And now, it’s actually kind of become a classic in it’s own right.  I recommend this to everyone. It’s short enough that it won’t tax anyone, nor put them off whatever else they are reading. Don’t fret too much about the details of the case, but relish the novel as a cool vintage enjoyment.

4 stars

Berserker

BerserkerBerserker is a collection of pseudo-short stories.  It was published first in 1967 after collecting the stories which were mostly published in Worlds of If magazine.  I read the 1984 Ace edition.  The cover for my edition was done by Boris Vallejo.

It is difficult to simply refer to the contents of the book as short stories.  To say that takes away all the connectivity and linear timeline that is actually present in the book.  Although the stories are individual and standalone to an extent, they must be read in order and to cherry-pick out of the book would ruin much of it.

On first look, the cover and title probably make one suspect the contents are juvenile man versus brainless aliens.  Something similar to the movie Starship Troopers or any high-explosion, scarce plot story.  I admit I kind of expected such a story – and maybe even hoped for that style just a little bit.  Surprise, surprise – the stories are far from juvenile.  The stories pose political, ethical, and scientific questions.  Each story is written as if it is one facet in the war against the berserkers – one facet because the war is not simply a war.  The war is a dynamic evolving event that changes based on, of course, location and time, and with the obvious variable:  who is fighting it.

One of the most interesting outcomes is the character development throughout the novel.  The characters readers meet in one story carry-through to another story, wherein their situation may be different, but they are still congruent characters.

Berserkers are machines.  I really see them as the true ancestors of Cylons, Borg, and Terminators. The machines were built – a very long time ago by some alien race of which we know nothing.  The Berserkers only have one goal:  destroy life.  Life – which is a bit more expansive than the typical mandate to destroy mankind.  These machines did not name themselves berserkers, in the course of the wars mankind dubbed the machines berserkers.

Berserkers are self-aware.  This means that though they are unaltering in their goal, they can “learn” and “adapt.”  For example, throughout the stories, the berserkers adjust their methods for achieving their goals.  They recognize life-units (particularly mankind) are crafty and emotional.  Therefore, the berserkers develop tactics that can overcome what the humans do.

Of course, humans still have all the usual character flaws – division, greed, lust, deception, selfishness, etc.  So, the berserkers can sometimes play on the foibles of humans.  But sometimes, the scale moves and humans are selfless, brave, and faithful which is unexpected and can often catch berserkers off-guard.

This book is just the first in the berserker series.  The stories here build upon each other and I suspect much of this carries forth into the other Berserker novels. I’m giving this collection fours stars because it had much more depth than I expected, I love these ancestors of so many science fiction machine-enemies, and it was a quick read that did not drone on and on. I definitely want to read the rest of the Berserker stuff.  This is the first Saberhagen I’ve read and I am quite impressed.

  • “Without a Thought”  – interesting, but probably should not come first in the collection.
  • “Goodlife” – essential reading in Berserker universe; first appearance of Hemphill and the term “goodlife”
  • “Patron of the Arts” – unique facet
  • “The Peacemaker” – unique facet
  • “Stone Place” – necessary and essential story
  • “What T and I Did” – disturbing horror-esque facet
  • “Mr. Jester” – very creative
  • “Masque of the Red Shift” – necessary reading
  • “Sign of the Wolf” – probably the weakest of the bunch
  • “In the Temple of Mars” – awesome story, connects with all the rest
  • “The Face of the Deep” – excellent ending, connects with “Patron of the Arts” and “Stone Place” and “Masque of the Red Shift”

4 stars

The Black Company

The Black CompanyGlen Cook’s The Black Company was first published in 1984.  It is the first in the series of books about the “Black Company.” The cover art was done by Keith Berdak and was taken from a description within the text.  The art is also some of the coolest, most gripping art of the 1980’s novels. Let’s face it; how do you see this cover in 1984 and pass it by?

The Black Company is a very odd and difficult read.  For the first 150 pages of the novel, I was generously going to give it no more than three-stars as a rating, and I spent the whole time marveling at the fact that so many readers have given it four or five-star ratings. This novel is the epitome of “character-driven” and “no detail.”  In fact, the plot itself is a bit challenging to discern until the reader is somewhere over page 220.

The difference, I think, between this character-driven novel and others, is that The Black Company is almost episodic in its structure and the characters do not really develop or change or move the storyline forward. Things happen to the characters.  The characters are perpetually caught in the current of the river that is the plot – but, that very same river is unnamed and unfamiliar to the reader, too.  The first 100 pages are easy to breeze through – except I found them aggravating and frustrating because I had no idea what was happening. Literally, no idea because it all seemed completely disconnected, random, and confused.

Yes, for the most part of this novel, the novel itself seems confused.  Not that it is confusing, but that it itself is confused. Disjointed and disconnected.  Okay, we all like mysterious plotlines once in awhile, but in the first 200 pages it definitely seems like there are some really basic, necessary points that the author has left out.  It’s like he is writing a story without writing a story at all. It does seem mad and confused.

Which is why if you are going to tackle reading this one – you have to force yourself to remain calm and keep reading.  At least until page 200.  Everything after page 200 (a mere 114 pages more) makes everything before it more sensible, reasonable, and palatable.  But can readers push themselves to read nearly 200 pages of randomized confused – HEY, I think the author LEFT SOME STUFF OUT – sort of reading?

This novel is told in the first person by the main character, Croaker.  He is a veteran medic and soldier in the mercenary troops of the Black Company.  Croaker also has the additional duty of being the Company’s Annalist.  This means he is their historian – so he is frequently called upon to witness and record events, battles, moments within the Company.  However, the novel itself is not the annals that Croaker writes.  It’s more like his in media res commentary of life within the Company – which is always punctuated by the antics of the other soldiers, the battles the Company is dispatched to fight, and the incidents that happen to the Company.

It needs to be mentioned, unlike most military/fantasy military novels, we are never ever given descriptions of anything.  I mean, you won’t learn what their uniforms look like or what gear they carry.  Readers do not discover what sorts of weapons are used or which character is most proficient in particular arms.  The end fifty pages of the novel actually depict a location under siege, which is done very well and the author deserves praise for this intense writing.  However, nowhere in the novel are there lines like: “… and then he punched him, while swooping his sword arm; but his opponent ducked and thrust his dagger forward. The clang of the dagger on his shield distracted him, so that he failed to counter with a blow from his war-anvil.”   This is decidedly not the standard “military-fantasy” that can be seen in sections of Brandon Sanderson or Steven Erikson novels.

And there are wizards and magic carpets and people get killed, brought back from the dead – trained as zombie-wizards and get to be patrons of battalions. Yes. Indeed.

So, I am giving this novel four stars because it started off as in media res randomized nothing and then got me addicted.  And it aggravated me and was confusing.  And then all of a sudden, I really was interested in what was happening and how the characters fared – although I really wasn’t entirely sure how the story had gotten to where it had. And after finishing it, I really miss the characters and the story and, though I have no solid idea about the setting whatsoever, I really want to read the next in the series. This writing style is very odd and unique.  The whole thing – whatever it may be – thoroughly grew on me, so to speak, by the end of the novel.  And now, I totally understand why so many readers rated it so highly.  Getting readers past those first 150 pages before they give up is gonna be tough!

4 stars

The Defense

The Defense

The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov was first published in Russian in 1930.  The English translation was first published in 1964 – which is the edition that I read. This is the fourth novel by Nabokov that I have read and it is also the one that I am giving the most stars to:  four stars out of five for this one.  An interesting phenomenon has occurred in my reading of Nabokov.  The first book I read by him was Lolita – which I still despise completely. Then I read Despair, which I reviewed in this blog, giving it two stars.  Then I read Invitation to a Beheading which I enjoyed much more and gave three stars to.  Three stars is probably the closest estimation of an “average” read.  Then I read The Defense and am giving it another star.  So, in theory, if I am to read another Nabokov (the only one left that I have any desire to read is Bend Sinister), the pattern suggests I will give it five stars.

I loved The Defense.  I am honestly surprised and dismayed that most people do not like this novel as much as his other novels.  I mean, in my world, between The Defense and Lolita there is no comparison – Lolita is dreck and The Defense is the magnum opus.  I have speculated in my other blog about why The Defense is not so well-loved. I have only two ideas (feel free to share any you have):  (1.) people are turned off by chess; (2.) it’s way more Russian than the other novels (and therefore difficult to immerse oneself within).

All the great praise that I hear about Nabokov’s writing (that I found to be absent in the other novels) is here in this novel.  Here it is – all the marvel and fame and glory and skill and insight and so forth.  Finally! After four novels I found the Nabokov I was waiting for!

The main character, Aleksandr Ivanovich Luzhin, is one of my favorite characters of all time.  He just has to be.  I feel like he is autistic, though there is no mention of this in the novel whatsoever – this is just me hypothesizing.  He is indeed loveable and wonderful.  Sure, he seems surly or distant to the other characters, but Nabokov somehow understands this character so well.  Nabokov writes with insight and intuitiveness that makes Luzhin accessible and yet not fake or overdeveloped as a character.  Nabokov understands Luzhin and he writes so that we can understand too.  This means the author is able to cause sympathy in the reader for the character – the sign of a masterwork novel.

Luzhin does not really understand us.  When he is a child there is a line in the novel that I absolutely love because it’s amusing and it truly depicts an autistic child’s viewpoint.  His household is having an argument and the adults are edgy and grouchy:

Luzhin reflected disgustedly that today everyone had gone mad and went to his room.

That is an awesome line.  I love that Nabokov uses the word “disgustedly” and I love that Luzhin views the incongruous moods of his parents as having “gone mad.”  Nabokov’s genius is right there in that line.  He understands the character and in a short sentence allows us to understand Luzhin, too.

Luzhin proposing to his girlfriend is epic awesome.  He bustles, out of breath, into her room and starts pacing nervously. He says:

And therefore in continuance of the above I have to inform you that you will be my wife, I implore you to agree to this, it was absolutely impossible to go away, now everything will be different and wonderful.

He sits, exhausted, in a chair and starts crying.  So, he does not really ask her to marry him, but rather has it all sorted out in a sort of chess-like way which only seems reasonable to him.  His girlfriend responds to his outburst and tears by stroking his forehead and taking a good look at him.  She comes to this conclusion:

It was then that she realized clearly that this man, whether you liked him or not, was not one you could thrust out of your life, that he had sat himself down firmly, solidly and apparently for a long time.

This line is reminiscent of Oblomov.  Both Luzhin and Oblomov actually have some similar characteristics (though I say only the former is autistic).  Both characters instantiate themselves into their friends’ lives – not boisterously or rudely – but by virtue of their very innocence, naïvité, and reason. They are surprising because they are so different from the social behaviors of the society they live within.  They draw people to them without necessarily trying and by simply being themselves, so to speak. And both characters are wonderful.

There are a number of phrases and descriptions that, though not lengthy, are full of masterful wordsmithing.  The first paragraph(s) of chapter 13, for example, are descriptions of winter – without describing winter.  Nabokov somehow describes the scene as if viewed through Luzhin’s eyes, maybe. And the writing is actual simple and not convoluted, but it is beautiful because it shows Nabokov really really really experiences the scene and can tell us perfectly his experience.  He describes a boy, a storefront, a frozen pond, a dog – all of this with such deft ease.  This is the Nabokov we’ve been hearing about; the one that’s a world-class author.

Late in the novel, Luzhin is trying to hide a notebook.  His wife retires to bed and Luzhin walks around the house searching for a “safe-place.”

Everywhere was insecure.  The most unexpected places were invaded in the mornings by the snout of that rapacious vacuum cleaner.  It is difficult, difficult to hide a thing:  the other things are jealous and inhospitable, holding on firmly to their places and not allowing a homeless object, escaping pursuit, into a single cranny.

Now, I do not know if you have ever sought for a “safe-place” or a secure place to put something, but yes, this is precisely what it is like.  And Nabokov describes this scene so perfectly.  And there’s this touch of autistic understanding in Luzhin’s attempt to hide the notebook.  I like how the difficulty of hiding an object is not the fault of Luzhin or the object – but that of other objects. Thanks for this, Nabokov!

The novel is a tragedy. The ending is sudden and done in a few paragraphs. It can seem like a ludicrous ending to some readers.  However, I think reading the whole novel in terms of a life lived within a chess game – the ending makes sense.  The ending also is congruent with the same, small Luzhin who years ago went to his room disgustedly.  It matches, too, the Luzhin who “proposes” to his girlfriend by stating it must be so.  Because Luzhin, above all, is a grandmaster of chess, life for him is chess. And he sees all the incidents and circumstances as if they are on some kosmic chessboard.  The Defense is, in his mind, the correct move.  The fallout from that is almost inconsequential. Dear Luzhin…..

4 stars