Speak, Nabokov
By Michael Maar
Verso £14.99, 160 pages
FT Bookshop price: £11.99

This collection is not for the Nabokov novice – a certain familiarity with the author’s works is expected and, without it, the reader will not appreciate Maar’s playful deciphering of codes, clues and word games hidden in the texts.

Speak, Nabokov is not only about the author’s canon, but also his personal life. Parallels are drawn between fact and fiction, between Nabokov’s created characters and those that inhabited his own world. The episode in Lolita when Humbert sits with the young girl on his lap could echo the times the author’s uncle, Ruka, “took the nine-year-old Nabokov on his knee after lunch”. And the quiet death of Fyodor’s father in The Gift, and the violent one suffered by Pale Fire’s protagonist, are compared to the assassination of Nabokov’s father by Tsarist officers. But it is Nabokov’s “despair” that interests Maar, for the writer “derived most of his material from the richness of his permeated self”.

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