Just Read: Laughter in the Dark by Nabokov

By  Melanie Yarbrough

Ahhhh. That’s my sigh of relief at being back. Back where? you ask. Back to my old self. You see, at the start of the year, several things and routines in my life shifted. The novelty of my “new” job wore off, and I stayed up later at night, which meant my productive reading-time commutes turned into AM/PM naptimes. I started a new relationship, and my solitary writer/reader weekends transformed into visiting/visitors weekends. But this morning I read the final chapters of Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, and I did a silent dance at my refound productivity.

So, let’s get down and dirty. I’ll warn you now, there are some spoilers in this review. Proceed with caution.

I’d read Invitation to a Beheading by Nabokov several years ago, and it made a lasting impression on me. Whenever people asked for suggestions, that title was on the tip of my tongue. I had tried once before to read Lolita, but to no avail. The words were thick, and my brain refused to read Humbert Humbert over and over. I moved on. When Nabokov returned to my life, I was ready. Invitation was a great precursor to Laughter, as I knew that I could trust where I was going even if I couldn’t make out quite where we were.

Laughter in the Dark is a deceivingly simple story of Albinus, the dissolution of his marriage and, thus, his life. He is not a wise man, and as easily as he betrays his wife and child, he is cuckolded by his teenage lover. In his introduction to the book, John Banville draws comparisons between Lolita and Margot. He suggests Margot is the precursor (as Laughter is to Lolita) to Lolita’s character.

The characters’ schemes and plots are not particularly clever or complicated. Albinus’ inability to see what is right in front of him (in all areas of his life, past and present, and quite literally, at the end) pushes the narrative forward. The reader sees so clearly what one man cannot, but we must still wait and watch while he catches up.

There is no pity or heartache – save, perhaps, when Albinus’s young daughter dies – only an eagerness and a hunger to see how the story plays out. Albinus has made himself a pawn; he has created a world so complete in his head that he has no need to access reality, and therefore no way to see the glaring inconsistencies it bears with his fantasy world.

This book was a quick read, and since it’s the latest installment for the No Fun Book Club, I’ll probably give it another read-through before our next meeting. The story moves along swiftly, bearing a strong resemblance to sped-up black and white films. Nabokov himself opens the novel with the admittance that the whole story can be summed up in a few lines. Just as in life, he notes, “detail is always welcome.” And what great details they are.

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