Lolita is one of my favorite books of all time, but for some reason I've never read any more Nabakov. I've been debating about reading this book for months and I finally did it. I'm kicking myself that I waited so long. This is a fantastic, wonderful book.
It is a comedy, something I did not know, written by the ultimate unreliable narrator. The book is a poem by a poet named John Shade with an introduction and notes by a fictional commentator named Charles Kinbote. These notes talk more about the exploits of the Zemblan king escaping a revolution than the poem itself.
Immediately, you notice that it is a satire of both intellectuals, academia and the interpretive project of literary critique as done by modern English departments. The poem is at times deliberately ridiculous and the commentator is insane. Its quite funny, but there are all sorts of things going on it and I found it so dense, that I could only read little bits of it at a time, because it is working on so many levels at once.
In addition to its satirical elements, there is also much going on here about the very nature of interpretation, about madness, and about self-deception. It is about how people can hijack the narratives of others and force there own deceptive narrative onto their very lives. As such, it is very much a companion piece to Lolita and I would not recommend reading this until after Lolita. We slowly come to realize that Kinbote is the King of Zembla, but then as the end comes we realize that perhaps everything really is his madness. The poet has been killed either by a Zemblan assassin trying to kill the king or a deranged lunatic trying to kill the poet. Because the book is a comedy we can't really tell. Shade is in some ways clever and we slowly grasp what his poem means. We realize that it is dealing with his daughters death, so that it is both a satire of a poetry, but also moving as well.
The whole thing is complex and beautiful, clever and charming, deep and moving, funny and sad, and says deep things about morality, interpretation, and truth. A fantastic book.
There will be lots more Nabakov to come for me.