title: Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle [support an independent bookseller and purchase from Strand]
author: Vladimir Nabokov
genre: literary fiction
originally published: 1969
source: New York Public Library
A few days ago I finished Nabokov’s longest novel, Ada, or Ardor. Full disclosure: I am, thus far, a Nabokov fan. Despite his preoccupation with “budding nymphettes,” (and by preoccupation, I mean full blown obsession) his prose is positively beautiful, rife with lyricism. A joy to read, even when the story can’t really be described as such. Ava, or Ardor follows the life and loves of one Van Veen, as, at the tender age of fifteen, he meets and falls in love with the woman that will consume his every thought for the remainder of his life. And the woman happens to be his sister, Ada.
Told as a memoir as Van, in his nineties, looks back over the highs and lows of his love affair with Ada. As if the family tree of the Veens weren’t complicated enough, Nabokov sets this piece in a sort of bizarro-world, like earth, but not. It’s as if history’s very timeline were picked up and deposited farther in the past. God is called “Log.” Movies exist in the late 1800s. The book is chock full of anachronistic cultural allusions. Such a fun read in terms of the way that Nabokov creates the world of the story.
So, the prose was beautiful, the world of the story captivating…so what about the whole incest thing? It’s funny: I got swept up in Van and Ada’s passion for each other. I found myself rooting for them to be together, until I remembered that they’re brother and sister, then it gets a little complicated internally…truth be told, there were several pages in the book that made me squirm a bit (ex: Van’s graphic and detailed description of his first sexual encounter with Ada). BUT if you can get past the incest aspect, it’s a really riveting story of all-consuming love and heart-breaking passion.
Rubric rating: 8. Made me want to reread Lolita.