Talking about the best book I read this month.
Laughter in the Dark
By Vladimir Nabokov
Vintage, 1989; 304 pages.
To be honest, I wasn’t enamored with many of the books I read in February. A lot of them just seemed to drag on and on. But Laughter in the Dark didn’t. Here, Nabokov is sharp, incisive, and spare. He does not waste words in this little volume, which was initially written in Russian. (*Little factoid: The novel was first published in English under the title Camera Obscura. Nabokov was so disgusted with the quality of the translation that he translated it himself in 1938 under the title Laughter in the Dark, which is what we English speakers read today.)
Albinus, an upstanding and rather dull middle-aged man in Berlin, is tired of his marriage. But not that tired. His quiet wife, Elizabeth, has not wronged him in any way; she is not demanding or difficult. But he’s bored. And so his fancy alights upon a young woman (a very young woman, per Nabokov’s tastes), Margot. Margot is also bored, but her boredom manifests itself in flights of mischievous and destructive immaturity. Their resulting affair is a disaster. I won’t say more about the plot, except that it was somehow darkly refreshing to read of an extramarital affair that made its participants seem so deeply silly and baseless and sad.
This novel, more than the others I have read by Nabokov, struck me as his idea of a parable. The story is simply told and unembellished, although it bears the imprint of its author in the various delightful asides and clever descriptions of people and their motives. I don’t think Nabokov would approve of labeling Laughter in the Dark with an overarching moral, but it’s a charming, dark little story. It’s the weakest of his novels that I have read, but saying that means it’s probably better than at least half of the books on my shelves. Nabokov’s raw talent can never really be dimmed, even by such a simple, direct, short narrative.
(*Another little factoid: Dave Eggers designed this book cover. What has the man not had his hands in? I do like it, though. I think it’s appropriate.)