Nabokov’s prose …Van Morrison’s voice

by Mark Richardson


Vladimir Naabokov

You know the feeling when you’ve read something and you’re so moved by it that you want to run out and talk to someone about it?


That’s how I felt last night after reading Vladimir Nabokov’s short story, “Wingstroke.” I think of Nabokov’s prose the same way I think of Van Morrison’s voice. I’m sure people would like to imitate them, but you just can’t.

So many writers today use truncated prose. They attempt to write like Hemingway or Raymond Carver or Bukowski (e.g. – We drank the water. The water was good). (See below for what Nabokov said about Hemingway.) Now don’t get me wrong, Carver, Hemingway, and Bukowksi are three of my favorite writers. But there is something magical about how Nabokov writes. He makes the English language sing. And it’s not just his robust use of vocabulary, but how he weaves his mystical stories.

I’m sure there are people who dislike Nabokov. Reading him isn’t easy. I can’t get through a page without consulting my online dictionary two – four times. You have to pay attention. You have to hold up your end of the arrangement. Sometimes I find his work irritating, cumbersome. But when I’m in the right mood, I love it!

Q: Is it true that you have called Hemingway and Conrad “writers of books for boys”?
Nabokov: That’s exactly what they are. Hemingway is certainly the better of the two; he has at least a voice of his own and is responsible for that delightful, highly artistic short story,”The Killers.” And the description of the iridescent fish and rhythmic urination in his famous fish story is superb. But I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir-shop style, bottled ships and shell necklaces of romanticist cliches. In neither of those two writers can I find anything that I would care to have written myself. In mentality and emotion, they are hopelessly juvenile, and the same can be said of some other beloved authors, the pets of the common room, the consolation and support of graduate students, such as– but some are still alive, and I hate to hurt living old boys while the dead ones are not yet buried.

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