Nabokovilia: Rebecca Makkai's The Borrower

I love love love Makkai's short stories, but somehow never got around to reading her terrific novel, The Borrower, until just now. There is a Nabokov nod right off the bat!

They say I'm the most terrific liar they ever saw in their lives. And that one, old lecher-lepidopterist, gabbling grabber, stirring his vodka-pineapple from the high narrow shelf of N-A-B, let me twist his words. (You can always count on a librarian for a derivative prose style): Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is what I envied, what I thought I could fix. Look at this prison of books. (2)

More Nabokovilia:

(Did he have a predecessor? asks Humbert.
No. No, he didn't. I'd never met anyone like him in my life) (6)

Thus Nabokov lived between Gogol and Hemingway, cradled between the Old World and the New; Willa Cather and Theodore Dreiser and Thomas Hardy were stacked together not for their chronological proximity but because they all reminded me in some way of dryness... (30)

Possible Nabokovilia! (Echoes of the Quilty/Humbert conversations.)

"I'm Glenn," he said. "I'm the penis."
"I'm sorry?"
"The pianist. For tonight."

"Do you pray?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Do you play. Piano." (39)

Lovely bit echoing Lolita's "I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art":

Here are the pictures, then. Gather around and look close: runaways and borrowers, angels and aurochs and actors, crafty villains and small, scrappy heroes. Now, complain that the girl in front was blocking your view. Squint hard and ask why the artist drew it all wrong." (322)

Sighting: David Foster Wallace's Roll Call

Adam Plunkett's N+1 memoir and appreciation of David Foster Wallace as a teacher features this Nabokov-minded bit:

It took a student a few seconds to answer when called on “Joseph Reynolds, light of my life, fire of my loins” (name changed to protect privacy). My own soft underbelly was spoken (if not written) politeness, a Midwestern habit of deference and sorrys and if-you-don’t-minds my Midwestern teacher invariably mentioned or mocked or prodded in a mild recursive torment, recursive because politeness tends to be polite about itself.

Nabokovilia: Arthur Phillips' The Tragedy of Arthur

Critics have already noted the structural similarities between Arthur Phillips' The Tragedy of Arthur and Pale Fire -- novel masquerading as introduction and commentary to a purportedly real work -- but there are some explicit nods at Nabokov in the novel. (Also some wonderful, less explicit, shadowy nods: chess games, magic lanterns, anagrams.) Here are two. My favorite follows first:

A year later, I am writhing to escape this web spun by two dead men, and literary executorship has become the most self-eradicating punishment Dante could have devised for an egotistical author. There was another writer born on my and Will's birthday, a hero of mine, whose son also signed his life over to promoting and protecting his father's works. I think of them both as these two other laughing corpses fling their bolas around my ankles. (187)


I wrote to my father, still, from Prague, wrote for him, still. The definition of insanity, the twelve-steppers have patiently taught me, one day at a time, is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I wrote for him, still. I have now written four novels, and I devised the idea of an anagram for him to decipher over years. The first letters of my titles of my novels are S, P, E, and A. I planned to write, with all my remaining years, books initialed S, H, A, K, E, R, and E, and then, maybe, A, N, D, M, E.

Shakespeare's lines are a nursery of titles for other, better writers: Pale Fire, Exit Ghost, Infinite Jest, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, The Sound and the Fury, Unnatural Acts, The Quick and the Dead, Against the Polack, To Be or Not to Be, Band of Brothers, Casual Slaughters. At the very least, I have never named one of my books after his stuff. (120)

Nabokovilia: Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot

From Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot:
"Bellovian," Leonard said. "It's extra nice when they change the spelling slightly. Nabokovian already has the v. So does Chekhovian. The Russians have it made. Tolstoyan! That guy was an adjective waiting to happen." (p. 57)
Possible second bit of Nabokovilia (the gesticulating trees echo Signs and Symbols -- relevant passage below the fold):

A three-thirty, instead of showing up for J.V. football practice, Leonard went straight home. A sense of impending doom, of universal malevolence, pursued him the entire way. Tree limbs gesticulated menacingly in his peripheral vision. Telephone lines sagged like pythons between the poles. When he looked up at the sky, however, he was surprised to find that it was cloudless. No storm. Clear weather, the sun pouring down. He decided that there was something wrong with his eyes. (p. 258)
From Nabokov's Signs and Symbols

...The patient imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. He excludes real people from the conspiracy, because he considers himself to be so much more intelligent than other men. Phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to each other, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His in- most thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees.