Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Mary by Vladimir Nabokov (3/5)

First published: 1926
Original title: Машенька, Mashen'ka
Original language: Russian
Translation to English by: Michael Glenny in collaboration with Vladimir Nabokov, 1970

Page count: 144
The back says: Mary is a gripping tale of youth, first love, and nostalgia - Nabokov's first novel. In a Berlin rooming house filled with an assortment of seriocomic Russian émigrés, Lev Ganin, a vigorous young officer poised between his past and his future, relives his first love affair. His memories of Mary are suffused with the freshness of youth and the idyllic ambience of pre-revolutionary Russia. In stark contrast is the decidedly unappealing boarder living in the room next to Ganin's, who, he discovers, is Mary's husband, temporarily separated from her by the Revolution but expecting her imminent arrival from Russia.

I say: I have conflicting emotions about this novel, and as I read more of Nabokov’s works it is becoming a somewhat recurring issue. On the one hand, I didn’t find it enthralling enough; and on the other hand, I love Nabokov’s use of language and the emotions his stories tend to provoke.

It is confusing.

There are several interesting characters in the building, out of which Ganin, the protagonist, is actually the least interesting. They get together for their meals in the dining room, but other than that tend to steer clear of each other. It takes a while before we realise what Mary means to Ganin, having first been introduced to her as Alfyorov’s wife who is on her way from Russia to join her husband in Berlin. Even though the story of Ganin and Mary is somewhat curious, I would much rather have read a story about the old poet in the house.

But I do not get to decide these things.

There are elements of humour in this novel, which I always welcome, but more than the writing and the story itself I enjoyed all the emotions to be drawn from the work. Love - requited and not – longing, selfishness, regrets and perseverance. And, as seemingly always, I loved the ending and did not see it coming.

I really need to find that book club. 


  1. I had similar feelings about The Gift. Maybe all of his Berlin novels are confusing? And if you can't find a book club you want, you need to organize one ;)

    1. I'm starting to feel like you're right about the Berlin novels, but haven't read enough of his works to dare form an opinion. It's almost hit and miss at this point. I've given him a rest for a few weeks because I started thinking too much when reading his works...

      And yes, I should start a book club :D