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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Laughter in the Dark

I didn’t get it.

Ok, that’s probably not enough of a review. Still, it is succinct.

Vladimir Nabokov is one of those authors that every critic will tell you is a genius, to the extent that when you find yourself not enjoying or even liking what you are reading, it makes you feel self-conscious. If this is indeed genius, then my lack of understanding means that I am not even capable of appreciating genius. It is comforting in such times to conclude that it must be the critics themselves who are limited. Perhaps it is they who are limited, and that which they can’t understand they are premature to hail as genius.

Laughter in the Dark is a slight story, and not very original. Indeed, Nabokov essentially outlines the whole plot in the novel’s excellent first sentence. The author promises to fill the story with detail because that is what makes the story, but this declaration is largely unfulfilled. Nabokov writes so quickly, merely stopping to sketch in cursory details about the characters, setting and plot, that it seems as though Nabokov’s own interest in the story expired after that first sentence.

Albert Albinus is a married man with a large, inherited fortune who is bewitched by an immature and selfish teenager named Margot. In a short span of time he leaves his wife for Margot and dedicates his life and his checkbook to making her happy, including financing a film just so she can launch her doomed acting career. Margot spends the novel plotting ways to rob Albinus of his fortune and leave him for her lover, his friend Axel Rex, a cynical cartoonist.

Laughter in the Dark follows Albinus’s life as it spirals to its inevitable, disastrous conclusion, and if I was in a hurry to get to the end it was nothing to the hurry that Nabokov was in. There are little glimpses of humor here and there but by and large my reaction to the novel was a big: So what?

Maybe this is a great novel that went over my head, and maybe I’m not fit to review the work of a genius like Nabokov, but as far as I can tell, Laughter in the Dark is an unsatisfying piece of fiction.

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