Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark (Berkeley, 1938)
[originally posted 24Sep2001]
Laughter in the Dark was Nabokov’s first treading of the ground he would return to almost twenty years later in Lolita—a middle-aged man finds himself desperately desiring an underage nymphet coming off her first love affair, and complications ensue.
This may have been Nabokov’s fifth novel (originally published in Russia in 1932), but it has earmarks of first-novel syndrome. He returns in some small part to his subject matter in Mary (the renewal of the old relationship amidst the new one) while seeing what could be gotten from the then-shocking subject matter of age differences in relationships. Unfortunately, both Mary and Lolita are better-fleshed-out than this. While it does pick up towards the end (the last third of the book or so is right up there with some of Nabokov’s better work as far as sheer readability goes), you may well be better off grabbing those and reading them back to back.
In the interests of amusement, note that the main character (whose name is Albinus Kretchmer)’s new love is said to have figured out his real name by checking under R in a telephone directory. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
For Nabokov completists only. ** ½