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
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

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on