Hit & Run: Would we care if he were alive?

Imagine that this year's breakout novelist is a 56-year-old Russian-American called Vladimir Nabokov, whose 12th work of fiction, Lolita, is making waves. On Radio 4's Front Row, his agent explains that yes, it has taken a while to be published in the UK or the US, but it's available from a Parisian porn imprint called the Olympia Press. He explains it's a monologue by a posh, unregenerate paedophile called Humbert Humbert, and his 12-year-old "nymphet" stepdaughter, with whom he absconds across America, for extremely sexual purposes, after her mother dies.

Can you imagine the outcry? But Nabokov was an author like no other. Trilingual, synaesthetic (he saw the letter M as pink) and addicted to games, he was a compendium of eccentricities. His main obsession, outside writing, was butterflies: he chased them all over America, and was curator of lepidoptery at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology in the 1940s. He was also a chess obsessive, who composed scores of chess problems and wrote a novel about a chess master, The Luzhin Defence.

He'd have had a hard time at today's literary festivals. "I think like a genius," he once wrote, "I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child." He therefore liked to stage-manage interviews, demanding to see questions beforehand, writing the answers with great care, adding more questions and answers to be parrotted verbatim, prompted by small file cards propped against studio vases. It's hard to imagine today's Paxmans or Frostrups joining in the charade.

All his novels were written on these little cards. The last ones he used are immortalised today, as his final text The Original of Laura is published by Penguin. The 275 pages feature, rather luxuriously, all 138 cards on which he wrote fragments in hospital during his last illness, before his death in 1977.

But the narrative soon runs out of steam. Fragments deal minimally with Flora, the promiscuous wife of a fat lecturer in experimental psychology called Philip. One of her mother's lovers is "Hubert Hubert," who fondles Flora in bed but is repulsed, a clear re-run of Lolita. The time-line jumps generations and plays games with a novel-within-the-novel called Laura, which scarcely exists. Nabokov's own voice intrudes now and then, expressing contempt for Freud and Malraux, and speculating about how to die happily by imagining an upright "I" on a blackboard being gradually rubbed out. The original has some nice word-play ("The potentate had been potent until the absurd age of eighty") amid the usual Nabokovian arcane vocabulary ("omoplate"? "inguen"? "hallux"?) and some startling dreams of bisexuality, but it's strictly a work for academics.

In October 1976 Nabokov described The Original of Laura as "the not quite finished manuscript of a novel which I had begun writing and reworking before my illness, and which was completed in my mind". He confesses that, "in my diurnal delirium [I] kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden. My audience consisted of peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible". That dream audience should, perhaps, have remained the only audience for The Original of Laura. John Walsh

Brangelina's 24-carat irony

Brangelina are always collaborating on something, whether it's the birth of their child, or the arranging for one to be freighted over from some international trouble spot. Their latest venture is a fine jewellery collection for Asprey, called The Protector and inspired by snakes.

Apart from Coleen Rooney's outing for Argos's in-store jeweller Elizabeth Duke, 'slebs have mostly left high-end trinkets alone, in favour of creating, say, horse blankets (that's you, Jordan).

But Brad and Angelina, who seem to have put their rumoured marital troubles aside to get furious smelting and welding these pieces, are known jewellery fans. They often privately commission costly glitzy pieces, and Pitt has already designed some items for the Italian jewellers Damiani.

With snakey-shaped rings, knotted serpent pendants, and a silver baby spoon with a wriggly reptile handle (a snip at $525), the collection aims to raise money for Jolie's charity, Education Partnership for Children of Conflict. The irony of helping starving children by taking money from those born with a silver snake spoon in their mouths is brilliant – you'd never have expected a pair of A-list worthies to have such a wicked sense of humour. Harriet Walker

Not Italian but totally delicious

A new poll reveals 90 per cent mothers cook just nine dishes. Top of the list? Spaghetti Bolognese. But who says the pseudo-Italian staple has to be repetitive. Red wine or white? Carrots and/or celery? A dash of milk, a dollop of Marmite or a splash of Worcestershire sauce? Spaghetti or tagliatelle? What about chicken livers? Hang on, why bother with shepherd's pie, pizza and the other fail-safe crowd-pleasers in the Merchant Gourmet poll when every day can be "spag bol" day? Simon Usborne

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk