The other week I read Pnin by Vladamir Nabokov, a book I had read before in 2002 or 3.
I remember liking it then but let me tell you now that I think this book is just excellent.
It's a series of stories, (vignettes, practically) about a Russian Professor working at a small university. The Professor (Pnin, duh) is something of a buffoon ignorant of his buffoonishness and nothing just about nothing but bad stuff happens to him. At times the bad stuff is funny and nearly delightful, at other times it is nearly heartbreaking (a scene involving dish washing had me tense on the subway with hopes that things would work out at least once for the Professor . . . read this book and you'll know what I mean.)
Also definitely going for it: Nabokov is just one of the most talented writers I've ever read and I was underlining choice arrangements of words as much as the bounces or crowds of the subway permitted. And while the tale of Pnin's woes is rather straight forward, I was picking up on a number of things bubbling within the tale.
- Among plenty of other things, Nabokov is known for his lectures on Don Quixote. One of his arguments about the book was that it was a tale of suffering, a catalog of miseries . . . basicaly Cervantes was just torturing the Don the whole time. With Pnin, Nabokov has crafted his own fool to torment and torment him he does.
- There are so many squirrels in this book! Why so many squirrels? What do the squirrels represent? What role do they each play in the novel? That is the question on your final exam.
- The Narration! Starting off it just seems a pretty standard third person omniscient situation is going on here but then you/I realize(d): "Wait . . . the narrator is a character. The narrator knows Pnin." But what character is he/she? And what is the nature of their relationship? These questions, for some reason (English major reasons, obviously), kept me oddly enthralled with an already oddly enthralling story.