Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The relation between reality and art lies at the bottom of this peculiar manipulation of a banal tale of a wandering husband destroyed by his love for a worthless woman. From the beginning, Nabokov builds the story up to something more than its plot, and at the same time, tears it down, showing the reader that it is “just a story” with which he, as artist, can do as he pleases. Coincidence occurs throughout the novel, undermining its credibility. Conrad, the novelist, provides the idea which brings Albinus into contact with Rex, and later it is Conrad, met by chance, who precipitates Albinus’ discovery of Rex’s betrayal. Rex happens to be Margot’s great love, although she does not know really who he is, or even where he is, until he suddenly appears at a dinner party given by Albinus. The poster outside the motion-picture theater in which Margot works prefigures Irma’s experience of watching the man from the open window. There are several of these doublings, all placed cleverly, and without comment, throughout the novel. Indeed, this cleverness is part of the point of the novel, which uses a story that ought not to have any aesthetic power at all.

Real life is not romantic enough for Albinus; he must have the kind of romantic adventure which occurs only in films. Appropriately, he has modest connections with the films, Margot wants to be a film star, and Rex has the technical skills to provide Albinus with his dream film. It is, quite deliberately, too coincidental and too often full of cinematic echoes. The reader is made aware of the way in which Nabokov “dresses” the set, and the seemingly awkwardly and irrelevantly placed objects against which the characters act; Rex, in particular, cooperates with the author in manipulating the environment, much as a film director might do. Nabokov is exaggerating and pointing...

(The entire section is 753 words.)