When Vladimir Nabokov died in 1977, he left instructions for his heirs to burn the 138 handwritten index cards that made up the rough draft of his final and unfinished novel, The Original of Laura. But Nabokov’s wife, Vera, could not bear to destroy her husband’s last work, and when she died, the fate of the manuscript fell to her son. Dmitri Nabokov, now seventy-five—the Russian novelist’s only surviving heir, and translator of many of his books—has wrestled for three decades with the decision of whether to honor his father’s wish or preserve for posterity the last piece of writing of one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. His decision finally to allow publication of the fragmented narrative—dark yet playful, preoccupied with mortality—affords us one last experience of Nabokov’s magnificent creativity, the quintessence of his unparalleled body of work.
Photos of the handwritten index cards accompany the text. They are perforated and can be removed and rearranged, as the author likely did when he was writing the novel.
Before Nabokov's death in 1977, he instructed his wife to burn the unfinished first draft handwritten on 138 index cards of what would be his final novel. She did not, and now Nabokov's son, Dmitri, is releasing them to the world, though after reading the book, readers will wonder if the Lolita author is laughing or turning over in his grave.This very unfinished work reads largely like an outline, full of seeming notes-to-self, references to source material, sentence fragments, commentary and brief flashes of spectacular prose. It would be a mistake for readers to come to this expecting anything resembling a novel, though the few actual scenes here are unmistakably Nabokovian, with cutting wordplay, piercing description and uneasy-making situations a character named Hubert H. Hubert molesting a girl, a decaying old man's strained attempt at perfunctory sex with his younger wife. The story appears to be about a woman named Flora (spelled, once, as "FLaura"), who has Lolita-like moments in her childhood and is later the subject of a scandalous novel, Laura, written by a former lover. Mostly, this amounts to a peek inside the author's process and mindset as he neared death. Indeed, mortality, suicide, impotence, a disgust with the male human body and an appreciation of the fit, young female body figure prominently. Nabokov's handwritten index cards are reproduced with a transcription below of each card's contents, generally less than a paragraph. The scanned index cards (perforated so that they can be removed from the book) are what make this book an amazing document; they reveal Nabokov's neat handwriting and his own edits to the text: some lines are blacked out with scribbles, others simply crossed out. Words are inserted, typesetting notes and copyedit symbols pepper the writing, and the reverse of many cards bears a wobbly X. Depending on the reader's eye, the final card is either haunting or the great writer's final sly wink: it's a list of synonyms for "efface" expunge, erase, delete, rub out, wipe out and, finally, obliterate.