[home|table of contents|literary|essays|email]

A Book Called Nabokov

Once upon a time in the rec.arts.books newsgroup there arose by some inadvertent chance the thought of a book called Nabokov. A poster, one Dan Goodman, wrote in comment:

IS there a real book called Nabokov? I know of an author by that name, but he was humble enough not to name any of his books after himself.

Who could resist? Forthwith I invented such a book.

You may be thinking of the book entitled “Nabokov” which is not, of course, by the author named “Nabokov”. The book is quite interesting. Nabokov is a small Russian village not far from Moscow – an invented village of course. The novel is set in 1830; it concerns itself with the doings of the widow Petrovsky who has lost both her husband and her lover in the Napoleonic wars. She is conducting what she supposes to be clandestine affairs with both the local doctor and the local priest. They in turn are aware that each other is receiving the favors of the lush and passionate widow but never admit it. The doctor and the priest, being the only intellectuals in the village, have an evening of playing chess once a week, these matches being a thematic element in the novel. At first one supposes that the chess games are a metaphor for their concealed competition for the widows favors. It is only upon close reading that one realizes that the situation is quite the reverse; that the weekly chess games are the core, the essential reality of their relationship. Neither can afford to defeat the other permanently at chess or in love, for that would destroy the basis of the relationship. Nor can they admit that they are not “playing to win”. In turn, the widow Petrovsky senses this without realizing it consciously. She appears to be playing one against the other in an erotic competition. In reality she is maintaining a relationship with an ambiguous duality. As I say, it is an interesting book. Unfortunately it is not real.

This page was last updated June 1, 1997.