I have realised why I read Nabokov fairly infrequently; if I read him all the time, I would run out of Nabokov to read, and by that stage I would not want to read anything else. Calvino says of The Charterhouse of Parma (which I read just now and will get around to reviewing here, this week, promise) that when readers discover it they often form the opinion that it is the novel, the one that matters the most, and which will affect their reading of all subsequent novels. I find a similar thing happens when reading Nabokov; other novels seem a little thin by comparison.
Stranger still is the feeling I get when I’m reading his books: that he was, of all people, the novelist. In other words, I start to feel that it’s a bit pointless for anyone who is, or was, not Vladimir Nabokov – with his own very particular combination of literary skill, exuberant delight in creation, graciousness and humour – to be writing novels at all. Well, anyone with the exception of Jane Austen.
Pnin is relatively straightforward compared to Pale Fire (I seem to remember that the title character of the former has a walk-on in the latter) and is pure pleasure from start to finish. There’s one sentence – it comes at the end of one of Pnin’s reminiscences to his wife’s son – which I think may be the most moving and funniest single sentence of dialogue I have ever read, better even that the absurd punchline of the Sergeant’s tale of bicycles in The Third Policeman.