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My bookshelf is growing bigger every day with new fantastic fairytales of fascism, dynamic doggerels of dystopia. Of course there is Orwell's seminal 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. There are also (move aside high-school dystopias) Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale and almost all of Kafka's well-kooked, absurd oeuvre (The Trial, The Castle, etc). Keep looking, yes right there, you almost missed another fantastic novel by Nabokov - Invitation to a Beheading. I love them all. They all hurt. They all confuse. They are belligerent in their sadness and show exactly how absurd bureaucracy and government and modernity are. Oh, and they all owe a helluva lot of DNA (at least from the angle I'm sitting and the mirror I'm looking at) to their slanted father Dostoevsky.
There is madness in all the punished and stupidity in all the enforcers. Bureaucracy's worst enemy is itself, but we are all its casualties. All of these books are works of genius and all capture a part of the dark river. Taken together, however, they seem to contain much of the anger, fear and reality of the modern state. So, it isn't just Orwell that nailed our dystopian reality, our reality seems to weep out of all these works into pools that really do reflect the closed, confused and soul-tearing aspect of modern government.
I can't stop thinking of Krug walking back and forth on a bridge, trapped between the guards on both sides of the bridge. One side can't read, and refuses to sign his travel documents. The other side won't accept his documents without signatures. There exists a banality of evil, like Hannah Arendt pointed out years ago in Eichmann in Jerusalem , but there is more often just an incompetence of evil, a stupidity of power that seems to baffle me every day as I read the news about police in NM doing anal probes because a man appeared to clench his butt or a man being arrested in OH for having a secret compartment in his car (nothing illegal in it, just something that could contain something bad. A blank page that could have Slander written on it, or could be set on fire). Left unchecked, there is nothing stupidity+power can't F-up. Good morning AmeriKa
18 of 21 people found this review helpful
I listened to the marvelous Audible production narrated by Robert Blumenfeld.
This is the third Nabokov book I've "read" and further elevates my appreciation of his intellect, imagination, and wry wit. He is the best surrealist I know of. His writing puts me in a great mood even while describing tragedies. Its twists and subtle perversions lead the me down odd alleys. His descriptions of the absurdity of everyday life as being so prevalent permeate my imagination in such a way that I almost became physically ill when removing the headphones and having insipid pop blaring from the public address illustrate his point.
His characters are easy to see. You follow them down slippery slopes to absurdity and, with them, wonder how you got there. Perhaps you see the not too subtle mole, but you don't see the absurd dance she'll perform.
This book was less absurd than Invitation to a Beheading but more than Lolita.
The first half seemed to be a universal tale of a person dealing with the dislocation of a personal loss trying to get his feet under himself while his community was going through a political spasm. Like Invitation, it portrayed society's inability to accept thinkers who don't conform and reform to the latest zeitgeist. Adam, the hero, didn't fully appreciate societal anti-bodies for nonconformists and presumed that his stature would protect him from the temporary tempest. Unlike Invitation, the hero had more at stake and more to value than himself. His weakness was not understanding that vulnerability until too late.
The second half appears to be an anti-Stalin tale and thus loses some of the first half's universalism. Nabokov wants us to know how absurd and little Stalin is. It's great writing with wondrous allegories, but I wanted to retain the first half's universalism.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful