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Real Life of Sebastian Knight 1ST Edition 2ND State

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Keeping it Real

  • Jan 30, 2012
Vladimir Nabokov is one of the giants of the twentieth century literature. He is best known for writing "Lolita", a book that to this day remains extremely controversial. His writing is characterized by a highly literary and complex style and themes, and some of his later works are almost incomprehensibly difficult to decipher. All of this is that much more fascinating when one takes into the account that English was not Nabokov's native tongue, and he started using it in his writing relatively late in his literary career.

"The Real Life of Sebastian Knight" is Nabokov's first English language novel, and in many respects it's the most accessible work stemming from his English phase. The story is conventional enough - a Russian émigré in the 1930s Europe is trying to piece together the secrets in the life of his recently deceased half brother, Sebastian Knight. The two have largely been out of touch during most of their adult lives, and piecing together the intimate details of Sebastian's life turns out to be a bit of a detective work. The narrator, identified only by his initial V., has been admiring his half-brother's literary career, and is intent on making sure that Sebastian's works are appreciated and promoted.

The novel contains many allusions to Nabokov's own life, including many big autobiographical chunks. Nabokov was also in real life alienated from his own brother, but one gets sense that both V. and Sebastian Knight are in a large measure based on Nabokov himself. The book's ending only serves to highlight this ambiguity.

The style of writing is equally very accessible, but even here are present certain stylistic devices that Nabokov would push to their limit in his later works: wordplays, literary and other allusions, and the blurring of the line between the fiction and the reality. In many subtle ways V. is a prototypical unreliable narrator, another of Nabokov's often-used stratagems.

This is a very well crafted novel that will appeal to most Nabokov's fans, even though it doesn't dazzle with complexity and literary mastery of his later works. It's definitely a worthwhile read.

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