by Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov really is a cruel man. Twice now, with both Despair and Lolita, has the author successfully crafted an entirely likeable protagonist and proceeded to make him truly despicable. Of course, while this doesn’t necessarily leave me satisfied in the end, it really is a testimony to the author’s skilful pen.
The likeable and loathsome man du jour is Hermann. I think his pompous, snarky observations really endeared him to me, whether regarding his simpleton wife, her mooching cousin, or anyone else he looked down upon, including his look-alike, around whom the majority of the plot surrounds. That being said, the most interesting aspect of having Hermann as a narrator was established early, with the admission that he was an obsessive liar, letting you know that not everything you’re hearing is actually what happened. This comes to a head later in the story when events repeat themselves with wildly different outcomes. This style can be oftentimes confusing, but Nabokov wrapped things up nicely when the mystery is eventually resolved.
At the end of it all, I don’t really know how I feel about Despair. It was no doubt beautifully written in a way that only Nabokov can write, and I can honestly say that the plot twisted in ways that definitely surprised me, but it ultimately left a sour taste in my mouth by the end. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the story; I just have a hard time recommending it.