So begins my yearly Halloween week reading. Sure, I read scary/thriller/spooky/ghost/etc books all year ’round… but this is a different time. Halloween’s a week from tomorrow – and the thirteen days before Halloween are crucial. You can ONLY read those type of stories, to better fortify yourself against the encroaching… others.
What a strange book. I guess I wasn’t expecting anything else, really – the back alludes to Kafka and denotes some of the strangest moments of the novel (ruining the entire thing, come to think of it, but whatever…) Still, it was a strange strange read. One that had its wonderful points but one that also was more frustrating than enjoyable.
The prison Cinncinatus finds himself engaoled in is indeed chimerical, ridiculous, and strange. The jailers dance with him, his co-prisoner is in fact the executioner, his visiting family bring their furniture… it is a weird place. Something twisted and dream-like – it never quite approaches reality.
The world it exists in seems to be one of some odd future, as there are references to things like books and cars having faded into the past. People are mostly “transparent” – it is for ‘gnostical turpitude’ (or, essentially, being a private individual) that Cinncinatus is condemned to death. This was the most interesting facet of this story, for sure: the idea that sticking out, being an individual, keeping one’s own counsel might lead to one’s death… This book was written half a century ago and yet doesn’t that fear still exist today? Those who stick out because they’re too dark a soul or because they can’t be easily read by the masses… I associated with Cinncinatus, I did. I felt for his plight, surrounded by these idiots and these people who simply didn’t want to try to understand him.
Any Nabokov reading requires a devoted mind, though – and I just couldn’t find myself completely devoted to this book at this time. I’m rehearsing two shows, work is absolutely insane, and as Halloween approaches I find myself wanting to read some slightly trashy horror novels… so I admit, I pushed through the last hundred pages of this novel without giving due attention to the words, the tricks, the sheer enjoyment of the English language that Nabokov brings to every page. If I had the time to just sit and read, perhaps I’d enjoy this novel far more… but I don’t, so therefore I simply couldn’t get into the book all the way.
Rating: 3 out of 5. There are interesting moments in this story and the general idea Nabokov hits at is one near and dear to my heart… but it is confusing, dense, and difficult to read when you can’t devote your full attentions to it. So I place it squarely in the middle of the field. Perhaps a re-read some early autumn many years from now will raise it in my estimation – after all, Nabokov held this and Lolita in highest esteem of all his works. Until then, I leave this behind.