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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An HR Consultant is required to join thi...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable