'Playboy' wins rights to serialise lost Nabokov novella

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The Independent US

In a symbolic marriage of high culture and low-brow titillation that recalls its glory days, Playboy is to serialise the final work of the Russian-born American novelist, Vladimir Nabokov, which has stayed hidden for more than 30 years.

The unfinished novella, The Original of Laura, will be published this autumn in what has been widely described as the literary event of the year.

Hugh Hefner's title won the bidding war this week to carry a hefty, 5,000-word excerpt of the novella.

Nabokov had a long and mutually agreeable relationship with Playboy, which serialised his 1969 novel, Ada, and also conducted a number of important interviews with him, in which he discussed some of the controversy that surrounded his most famous novel, Lolita.

However the jury is out on whether the author would be happy to see a chunk of Laura amid the magazine's usual fare of scantily clad women and celebrity interviews. His dying wish was for the uncompleted work to be destroyed by his heirs.

That was disregarded but the novella has been locked away since his death in 1977. Then last spring, Nabokov's son Dmitri decided to put the book on the market. Whether the move was inspired by a desire to allow the public to share the work or simply by potential profit is unclear. However, Mr Nabokov chose Andrew Wylie, a famously-predatory literary agent known as "the Jackal", to market it.

The novella tells the story about an overweight academic in an unhappy marriage to a promiscuous woman.

Playboy's deal to publish the serialisation on 10 November, a week before the book goes on sale, was the result of a lengthy courtship by the magazine's literary editor, Amy Grace Loyd, who resorted to sending several shipments of flowers to Mr Wylie.

"I was very persistent, as I often am, and I try forcibly to remind people of our literary history because it is very easy for people to dismiss us," she told The New York Observer. "I'm so glad all those orchids did not die in vain."

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